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For As Long As Ever Lasts - Part 2
Author - Hopeful Romantic
Fan Fiction Main Page | Stories sorted by title, author, genre, and rating
For As Long As Ever Lasts
Rating: PG-13, for language
Part II (Chapters 6-10)
T’Les had made certain this time that T’Pol was not forced to choose between her mother and anyone else. With the High Command’s attack imminent, and Archer intent on finding the Kir’Shara, T’Les had urged T’Pol to stay with her captain, while T’Les remained behind to oversee the evacuation of the Syrrannites from the sanctuary. Their parting was hurried but warm, between a mother and daughter who had finally become friends.
That made it even more difficult for T’Pol when she, Archer, and T’Pau clambered out of the catacombs, with the Kir’Shara cradled safely in the crook of Archer’s arm, and they were greeted by the sight of the sanctuary being blasted into rubble by the relentless Vulcan strike force.
The three peered down into the burning wreckage of shattered stone columns and collapsed chambers, trying to see through the smoke and debris being thrown up with each successive explosion. They could discern no movement within the ruins. It was impossible to tell whether the Syrrannites had escaped or had all been killed in the attack. T’Pol could not quell the apprehension growing within her regarding her mother’s fate.
-- -- --
Trip was ordering extra personnel to the decompressed section of C-Deck when he first felt it...a vague sense of foreboding, deep in the pit of his stomach. But he’d already gotten a detailed damage report from Malcolm: the hull breach had been sealed, the injured had been moved to sickbay, and repair teams were already tackling the damage. His people were on top of everything; there shouldn’t be any surprises.
The nagging sensation inside him only grew, though. As he restlessly prowled the bridge, Trip crossed to the science station, trying to focus on something else. Soval was attempting another long-range scan of the Forge to locate Captain Archer and T’Pol—again, no luck. The Vulcan ships had chased Enterprise too far out to pick up anything through the area’s dampening field.
As he hovered beside Soval, Trip’s nebulous unease suddenly ignited into crystal-sharp panic, spreading through his body like wildfire. He sucked in a breath of shock as he felt a horrific pain searing its way through his heart—but somehow he knew the pain wasn’t physical. What the hell...?
-- -- --
T’Pol fell to her knees beside her mother’s bruised, broken body, gently gathering her up. T’Les had been struck by a stone column as the chamber blew apart around her. She was still breathing, albeit shallowly. T’Pol fought back her rising panic. “Mother?...”
The older woman’s eyes drifted open. She looked relieved to see her daughter. “I was afraid you were still inside.”
T’Pol could already feel tears welling behind her eyes. “It’s all right,” she said, trying to sound calm but failing miserably. “We found the Kir’Shara.”
T’Les held her daughter’s arm lightly. She could sense T’Pol’s tremendous inner conflict, her struggle to keep her emotions in check. If only it had not taken so long to discover the key to her child’s peace... “You have always struggled so with your emotions. I came here—I did all this to help you.”
What could be so vital that her mother’s life was a just price? “Mother, I don’t understand...” T’Pol’s voice broke.
“You will,” T’Les said softly.
At this moment, the future didn’t matter to T’Pol. All she could see was here, now...her mother in her arms, dying.
-- -- --
Soval’s eyes flicked up at the sound of Commander Tucker’s soft gasp. The human was in obvious distress. He angled away from the rest of the bridge, clearly unwilling to let his crew witness his difficulty. “Commander?” Soval said softly.
Trip knew his cover was blown with Soval, but for some reason, he didn’t care. The rest of the bridge personnel, that was something else. He didn’t want everybody in an uproar, not when he didn’t even know what was going on.
The terror was overwhelming him, the anguish in his heart worsening with each passing second. The notion that he was having an actual premonition of disaster seemed like a bunch of hooey, but he had to make sure. “Malcolm?” he called, bending over Soval’s console, as if studying the data there. “Ship’s status?”
“Dr. Phlox reports that none of the injured are in serious condition,” Reed reported. “C-Deck has been repressurized and emergency bulkheads raised; damage control teams are inside now. All is proceeding apace, sir.”
Trip couldn’t get a clear view without giving himself away, but Malcolm’s voice was calm enough. “Thank you.” He was being assaulted by emotions now—hopelessness, fear, and a bottomless grief that threatened to swallow him whole. He pressed a hand to his chest, shutting his eyes, struggling to take a full breath.
“May I be of assistance?” Soval asked in a low voice.
“I don’t know,” Trip whispered helplessly. “I feel...I’m feeling...” The emotion had him tight around the throat now, making it difficult even to speak.
Soval rose. “Perhaps you would be more comfortable elsewhere.”
Trip met the old Vulcan’s gaze and nodded gratefully. Steeling himself, he turned and started toward the captain’s ready room, willing himself not to stumble. Soval fell into step with him, staying close by his side.
“We’ll be in the ready room, Malcolm,” Trip said. Amazingly, his voice sounded normal.
“Aye,” Reed nodded, hardly glancing up from his console.
-- -- --
T’Les reached up to touch her daughter’s cheek. T’Pol, her eyes brimming with unshed tears, latched onto her mother’s hand. She remembered countless days as a child, clinging wordlessly to T’Les like this, unable to convey what she felt.
As her long fingers spread carefully across T’Pol’s face, T’Les began to whisper in a soft cadence. T’Pol could not make out the words over the crackle of the burning debris around them. She leaned closer, finally hearing— “...Our minds are merging...our minds are one—”
—With a gasp, T’Pol found herself standing in the sand garden at home. There was a curious glow to it...every surface, every grain of sand and drop of water flowing from the fountain, seemed to shimmer with an inner light. T’Pol herself was glowing, she found, when she held up a hand. As she moved her hand through the air, it left a skittering trail of light dancing in its wake.
The air was different too, warm and thick with...emotion. It suffused the garden like the pulsing heat of a summer’s day, flowing around her and through her. T’Pol breathed it in, tasted it, and knew the source was...
T’Les. She was standing before T’Pol now, whole and strong again, her hand still on her daughter’s cheek. T’Les was glowing as well, more brightly than the rest. It seemed to T’Pol that her mother was the source of all the light, the wellspring of the emotion that caressed her with such warmth and affection.
T’Les smiled gently at her daughter. “I love you, my T’Pol. I have always loved you. I realize I never told you, but such things are not given voice among our people.”
T’Pol smiled back at her mother. It seemed such a natural thing here, the two of them sharing smiles. “It is liberating to speak the words aloud, is it not?”
“Indeed.” Then her mother’s smile faded. “I’m sorry,” she said.
T’Les looked beside T’Pol. A shimmering, glowing Trip was standing there now, giving T’Pol the warm, dimpled smile that he reserved only for her.
“I did not realize at first that Commander Tucker was in love with you,” T’Les confessed. “I sensed it when I touched him.”
T’Pol could see an image behind T’Les, a memory given shape and substance...Trip and her mother in their formal robes for her wedding. She watched as the image of T’Les fastened Trip’s collar, then ran her hands down his sleeves, her touch lingering for a moment as she regarded him thoughtfully.
As the image faded, T’Les said, “Now I understand fully. I hope you will forgive me someday, T’Pol. I thought my secret was more important than what is in your heart.”
T’Pol keenly felt her mother’s regret. Wishing to ease it, she said, “Commander Tucker and I did not lose each other entirely. We have reconnected as friends.”
“But your love only grows...especially now.” T’Les looked to T’Pol’s other side. She turned to see Lorian beside her, regarding her with the tiny, impish smile she had come to cherish. T’Les gazed at his image in wondrous silence for a long moment. “So this is Lorian, my grandson.” She arched a refined eyebrow. “You said he has his father’s blue eyes, but who is to say they are not mine?”
T’Pol was pleased by her mother’s easy acceptance of Lorian. “He wanted very much to meet you.”
More images coalesced around them, memories of Lorian drawn from T’Pol’s mind. Their first encounter in the Expanse, in Enterprise’s conference room...their sorrowful embrace after the death of old T’Pol...the Launch Bay, as Lorian told T’Pol and Trip his theory regarding Koss’s reason for marrying her...their heartfelt farewell days ago, before Enterprise left for Vulcan. T’Les drank them all in, like a parched traveler at an oasis in the desert. “He is an extraordinary man,” she remarked. “The best of both you and Commander Tucker.”
As the images faded, T’Les returned her gaze to T’Pol and Lorian. Karyn was standing arm-in-arm with Lorian now, regarding him with a serene smile. T’Les studied the new arrival with interest. “And this is Karyn, who will be your daughter soon.”
T’Pol looked on her son’s fiancée with fondness. “She has proven herself a worthy mate for him, and he has given her his heart.”
More of T’Pol’s memories came to life around them: Lorian and Karyn storytelling to their crew in the observation lounge on Enterprise, dancing together at Callahan’s, working alongside Trip and T’Pol in engineering. “A true partnership,” T’Les observed. “As it should be between bondmates. I am pleased.”
She smiled at T’Pol again. “I feel your love for your son. And I cannot help but love him as you do...” She was glowing more brightly, so brightly that T’Pol almost could not look at her. As T’Les embraced her, T’Pol felt a rush of love, warm and everlasting. She held her mother close, giving her own love freely, feeling it accepted. Both women were glowing vibrantly now.
Then, suddenly, T’Pol was alone in the garden, her arms embracing empty air. She looked around in confusion—
—And saw the crumbling ruins of the sanctuary. Only seconds had passed.
The meld was broken. T’Pol’s mind was alone again, so alone...and her mother’s consciousness was far away, in her own body, her life force fading as her hand slipped from T’Pol’s face. “I’m so proud of you,” T’Les breathed, her expression peaceful as her eyes held her daughter’s. “My T’Pol...”
“Mother,” T’Pol whispered desperately. “Stay with me, Mother...”
T’Les sagged against her. She was gone. T’Pol felt her grief enveloping her heart completely, stealing away breath and light, wrenching tears from her eyes, leaving her bereft and alone in the darkness.
-- -- --
The door to the ready room closed behind Soval just as Trip’s knees buckled. Soval caught him, helping him into a chair. “Shall I call Dr. Phlox?” he asked.
Trip shook his head, grimacing as an enormous wave of grief crashed through him. “No...no...this isn’t physical.” His vision was blurring. He rubbed at his eyes, and was surprised to find them wet with tears. “It feels like...God, like when I first looked down into that trench in Florida, where my hometown used to be...where my sister’s house used to be. For a moment I pictured her down there, trapped under the rubble, and I was terrified that she’d been waiting three months for me to get home and dig her out. And then it hit me...she wasn’t down there. She was gone. She was dead.”
He turned to Soval. “This isn’t my grief I’m feeling. It feels like...somebody else’s. What the hell’s goin’ on?”
Inwardly, Soval was astounded by what he was witnessing. He would not know with certainty until he spoke with T’Pol, but he had little doubt that Tucker was feeling the empathic echoes of a mating bond. If true, it was an extraordinary development—unprecedented between Vulcan and human, as far as Soval knew. It would also provide a possible explanation for the connection he had sensed between the two some days ago. Commander Tucker certainly seemed unaware of a bond, if his baffled reaction was any indication. Apparently it had begun to manifest without his knowledge, or presumably, T’Pol’s. Even more remarkable.
Spotting a carafe of water on the table, Soval poured a glass and placed it in the commander’s unsteady hand. It would not be wise to discuss the bond until T’Pol was present; Tucker had already expressed his uneasiness regarding the subject. In any case, T’Pol’s marriage made the situation infinitely more complicated. In truth, Soval did not know whether to speak at all. He had no wish to give them simply another reminder of the future they had been denied.
“It is possible that you have latent telepathic abilities,” he finally offered. It was a form of the truth, after all. “You could be sensing the emotions of someone at the Syrrannite camp, if there was an attack.”
“I’m an engineer, not a psychic.” Trip sipped the water gratefully. The overwhelming emotions were finally beginning to ebb, but he was still worried as hell. “Do these mind-melds of yours work long-distance? Is somebody messing with me—trying to make me think the captain and T’Pol are dead, so we’ll give up and leave?”
Wishing to allay the commander’s fears, Soval replied, “On the contrary, I believe T’Pol is very much alive.” He hoped Tucker would not ask directly about Archer. Judging from the intensity of the bond echo, the probability was high that T’Pol had lost someone close to her. That would mean her mother, or her captain.
Trip latched hopefully onto Soval’s statement. “Do you know something I don’t?”
Carefully, Soval sidestepped the commander’s query. “I know that if V’Las were foolish enough to harm them, it would be tantamount to an act of war.”
Trip scowled. “I don’t think V’Las gives a f...I don’t think he cares if he starts a war. You said yourself that he’ll do anything to get what he wants.” Under his breath, he muttered, “Reckless, ruthless passion...”
Soval frowned. “An unsettling attribute for a Vulcan, but an apt one for the perpetrator of these crimes.”
“Lorian came up with that. Pithy kid, isn’t he?”
The description was deeply troubling. It reminded Soval of V’Las’s true motive for targeting the Syrrannites: to eliminate them as a possible obstacle to his goal of launching a war against Andoria. “If V’Las is allowing his emotions and personal desires to dictate his actions to the point of rationalizing murder,” he told Tucker, “even the possibility would be justification enough for removing him from power until he can be questioned by the rest of the council.”
“That’s a start.” Trip splashed water from the carafe on his face. He was feeling steadier now. “I think it’s ending, whatever it was.” He looked pointedly at Soval. “You didn’t answer my question, Ambassador.”
“Soval. I am no longer an ambassador.”
“Soval. How do you know T’Pol’s all right?”
“I cannot say with certainty,” the Vulcan replied, after a moment’s pause. “You will have to trust me.”
Trip kept his curiosity in check, for the time being. “I trust you. But you owe me the end of this conversation.”
“You shall have it. As soon as an end presents itself.”
Trip ran his tongue along the inside of his cheek. “I guess I shoulda known there’d still be times I’d want to strangle you.”
Soval inclined his head in assent. “It is inevitable, when two disparate personalities become friends.”
Friends. Trip liked the sound of that. “Did you and Forrest fight?”
“We engaged in spirited debate, Commander.”
“Meaning ‘yes’,” Trip concluded. Soval arched an eyebrow, and Trip smiled. “And feel free to call me Trip. I know Vulcans don’t use nicknames, but I also know you’re not a typical Vulcan.”
Soval dutifully tried it on for size. “Trip...” He looked as if he were examining a peculiar new lab specimen.
Trip laughed out loud. It was a much-needed release, after feeling so much sorrow. “Don’t hurt yourself.”
Soval shook his head regretfully. “Perhaps...with practice.”
Trip got to his feet, doing a quick self-diagnostic. Everything seemed back to normal, though he knew the memory of that emotional agony would stay with him. “I’ve got to get back to work. Shall we, Soval?”
Soval stepped to one side, allowing Trip to precede him. “Indeed...Commander.”
Trip chuckled as he led the way out.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Lorian woke with a start as the anguished mental cry echoed through him. He peered at his unfamiliar surroundings, disoriented...and then he remembered. He was no longer at Starfleet on Earth, but in his quarters aboard Columbia. He and Karyn had reported to Captain Hernandez for duty that afternoon.
He was sitting up, still trying to get his breathing under control, when his cabin door slid open and Karyn entered, a swirl of rose satin in the starlight. She sat beside him on his bunk. “What’s wrong?”
“How did you know?” he asked.
“I just did.” She stroked his face. “You look pale.”
“I think it was...a dream...” He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. His pounding heart was finally calming. “All I remember is a feeling of shock...and grief. My mother’s grief. I recognized it...I’ve felt it before. Only once.”
“When your father died?” Karyn asked softly.
Lorian nodded. “It was like that now, but fainter...” He put a still-trembling hand to his temple. “It must have been a dream.”
Karyn took his hand in both of hers, cradling it against her throat. He relaxed as he felt her pulse beating gently under his fingers. Her skin was so soft. He let his hand slide up to her cheek, his thumb lightly tracing her lips, and he felt her smile.
He noticed that her feet were bare. She hadn’t even paused to put on a robe over her nightgown. “You were in the corridor...wearing only that?”
She seemed amused. “Lorian, if the ship were put on Tactical Alert at two in the morning, and the senior bridge staff was ordered to report immediately, I would go up wearing only this.”
An image leaped unbidden into his mind...Karyn at the helm station, in that low-cut satin gown. He swallowed. “Be aware that the performance of the male crewmembers on the bridge would be profoundly less efficient if you did so.”
She giggled. “How long has it been since I told you how charming you are?”
“Several days, at least,” he replied, his own eyes twinkling.
A tiny shiver went through her, and he realized she must be cold. She really was wearing very little. “Here...” He pulled back his covers, and she slipped into the narrow bunk beside him. Automatically, they nestled together against his pillow, his arm around her.
They hadn’t been this close since their single night of intimacy...though Karyn had happily made the most of the slower pace of their courtship, turning their kisses and light caresses into extraordinary moments of tantalizing sensory overload. Their engagement had become a long, sensual dance of sweet anticipation. Lorian could feel her body warming beside his now, the thin satin of her gown leaving nothing to his imagination. But her nearness did not make him feel self-conscious. In truth, he was surprised to find that it felt quite natural.
Karyn was silent for a time, holding his hand, lacing her fingers idly through his. At last she murmured, “I’ve been thinking about my parents too, since the admiral died. Remembering.”
Lorian remembered as well.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“You have a choice, Miss Archer,” Captain Lorian said, in that dulcet baritone Karyn loved hearing. He nodded toward Charlie and Olivia Archer, seated in the corner of the ready room. “You can accompany your parents on the goodwill mission to the Zayyan ship, and assist them in the exchange of resources and information with the Zayyans.”
Karyn’s mouth dropped open, before a delighted grin split her face. “My first away mission?”
Charlie and Olivia nodded, tickled by her reaction. “Or,” the captain continued, “you can stay on Enterprise and fill in as Chief Helm Officer for the week your father is away.”
Karyn was even more flabbergasted, if that was possible. The away mission was inviting enough, but this was a dream come true. Karyn had been manning the helm for less than a year; she’d only been bumped up from Graveyard to second shift two months ago. She was already almost as skilled a pilot as her father, but she was only eighteen. She’d assumed it would be years before she had a shot at first shift.
She looked speechlessly from Lorian to her parents and back again. Charlie laughed heartily. “Now you’ve done it, Captain. Her head’s gonna blow up.”
“Charles!” Olivia admonished. “Don’t tease her in front of the captain.” She turned to her daughter. “Think of it this way, sweetie. Whatever you pass up will come along again.”
Karyn tried to look at the situation objectively, but she knew it was impossible. She wanted to stay. She wanted to be with Lorian.
God, she had it bad for him. No one knew; it had been Karyn’s deepest secret for nine years, since she had visited the bridge and watched Captain Lorian help save a whole shipful of people. She had grown up dreaming about him, and now she was hopelessly, madly in love with him...though admittedly her feelings were totally unrequited. The captain’s entire focus was on the mission, and would remain so until the Xindi probe was destroyed. Until that happened, there was no use telling him how she felt. So Karyn kept on dreaming, patiently waiting for a day when the mission would be over.
Now she was being offered an opportunity to work with him every day, not just blindly fantasize about him. To talk with him, watch him out of the corner of her eye, just be near him...for an entire, glorious week. Her heart skipped a beat at the thought.
Lorian was regarding her curiously. She’d been staring at him. She blinked, cleared her throat, and picked a nice, safe patch of blank bulkhead to look at as she made a valiant effort to see the pros and cons of going on the away mission with her parents.
“Okay,” she began. “If you two go without me...it could be like a second honeymoon! Well, with people all around, and you’ll be working the whole time, but other than that...” Charlie stifled another laugh, but his shoulders were shaking with mirth. Karyn made a face at him before continuing. “If I go with you, I get the benefit of the whole away mission experience, of course. And I can watch Dad work. Hmm, done that. Help Dad work? Done that. Help Mom work—done that, too...”
“Looks like we’ve outlived our usefulness,” Charlie stage-whispered to Olivia.
Karyn shushed him. “If I stay here,” she went on, “I would be acting Chief Helm...” —she looked pointedly at her father— “...which I thought wouldn’t happen for a million years, since Dad never gets sick or takes any time off.” Charlie shrugged unapologetically. Karyn went on, “I would have the valuable experience of working the higher-pressure first shift...with the captain...”
“Never done that,” Olivia chimed in. And she winked at her daughter.
Karyn stared at her. Does Mom know? About me and Lorian? I mean—that I wish there was a me-and-Lorian?
Olivia offered nothing except a Cheshire-cat smile and a tiny, reassuring nod. Karyn realized her mom was telling her it was okay to stay, to take advantage of the chance to work with Lorian.
“I’ll stay here,” Karyn announced to the captain.
“Big surprise,” Charlie snorted. “You want my job, don’t you, young lady?”
“Whose fault is that?” Karyn shot back playfully.
“Very well,” Lorian acknowledged. “Report for duty at 0900, Miss Archer.”
“Aye, sir,” Karyn replied crisply.
Olivia smiled. “You have just enough time to walk us to the airlock.”
-- -- --
Lorian had reservations when Charlie Archer recommended that his daughter fill in for him while he and Olivia were away. Though possessed of prodigious piloting skills, Karyn was young and lacked experience. Nevertheless, Charlie was confident that she would be able to meet the challenge.
Lorian saw fairly quickly that Karyn was less intimidated by the prospect of acting as Chief Helm Officer than she was by Lorian’s mother. Still a formidable presence at 175, T’Pol sat sedately at the science station, saying little but missing nothing with those sharply perceptive eyes. Karyn seemed quite unnerved by T’Pol’s scrutiny...until Enterprise maneuvered unexpectedly into an uncharted anomaly field.
Karyn forgot all about her nervousness, training her full attention on her helm controls, as Lorian had T’Pol use the sensors to chart a course out of the field. Karyn followed T’Pol’s directions to the letter, navigating Enterprise with a sure but delicate hand that Lorian found remarkable. They reached safe space with no appreciable damage, prompting T’Pol to observe off-handedly to Lorian that Charlie should take a few tips from his daughter about finesse. The rest of the bridge crew broke into laughter, and Karyn shyly smiled. Lorian noted no further discomfort on her part from then on.
Lorian had had little opportunity to spend personal time with Karyn in recent years, and he was pleased to see that she had matured into a bright and energetic young woman, possessed of the same unquenchable enthusiasm and competitive spirit that characterized all the Archers he had known, back to his godfather Jonathan. Moreover, she demonstrated a kind and generous nature that quickly endeared her of the rest of the bridge staff.
She seemed particularly eager to converse with Lorian himself, whether the topic be ship’s business or his thoughts on the eclectic selections for Movie Night. Lorian assumed she was curious to learn more about her captain, as many of the younger crew often were. He found her to be an attentive listener and an engaging storyteller. She would do well telling stories to the children, he thought.
Charlie’s confidence in his daughter proved to be correct. Karyn was not only skilled, but highly intuitive. Even T’Pol agreed that Karyn had a more sensitive touch at the helm than her father. Lorian was curious to know how Charlie would react when T’Pol told him, as she surely would.
Unfortunately, he never had the chance to find out.
-- -- --
Enterprise received the frantic, abbreviated distress call from the Zayyans on the third day: their ship had been attacked by a marauder vessel. They had driven their attacker away, but not before sustaining significant damage. And there were casualties, including four dead. No further details.
Enterprise covered the distance back to the Zayyans in minutes, but the trip seemed endless. The bridge was hushed, with Karyn at the center of the silence. No one knew what to say, so no one said anything...with the exception of the captain. He treated Karyn exactly as he had during the past three days, for which she was grateful.
They were all staring at the sobering image on the viewscreen—the sleek Zayyan ship, with a section of her hull blown out, gaping like an open wound—when Mariko got the call from Abbie Mayweather, who was commanding the away team. Lorian had it transferred to his ready room, and he disappeared inside to take it.
A few minutes later, the ready room door slid open. The bridge went completely still as the captain stepped out. “Karyn? Join me, please.”
Karyn felt as if she were walking underwater as she followed him back inside.
Once the door was shut behind them, Lorian gestured Karyn to a seat, but she shook her head. He nodded and got to the point, as was his style. “I spoke with Abbie. The marauder only fired one shot before the Zayyans were able to raise their shields, but it punctured the outer hull. One compartment decompressed almost instantly. There were four killed: two Zayyans, two from Enterprise.”
Karyn braced herself, waiting to hear which of her parents was dead. Lorian gazed wordlessly at her...and her whole body went cold as she realized they were both gone. She swayed unsteadily, and at once the captain was at her side, supporting her. She stayed on her feet, knowing that if she went down now, she’d never want to get up again.
“Did they suffer?” she whispered.
“Abbie believes they did not. She found them together, holding each other...she called it an embrace. She said their faces were quite serene.” Lorian had taken comfort in Abbie’s account; he hoped that, in time, Karyn would as well. “She believes they saw the hull breaching, and in that last second or two, they found each other, and met it together, without fear or pain.”
Karyn nodded. That was something, at least. Her vision was blurring from the tears welling in her eyes. Suddenly, she was gripped by panic. She turned toward the watery image of Lorian. “What did I say to them before they left? What did they say to me? I can’t remember!...”
Lorian kept his hand under her elbow, holding her up, making no attempt to curb her emotions...simply bearing witness to her grief.
The shock was wearing off now, and Karyn could feel the pain hurtling down on her, threatening to bury her. She was gasping, trying not to sob in front of him. It was so hard to breathe... “Will someone bring them home?”
“Of course.” Lorian’s voice was soothing. “The away team is assisting with the injured among the Zayyan crew. They’ll return with your parents as soon as they are able.” He paused. “Of course, you’re free to take as much time as—”
“No!” Karyn shook her head vehemently. The last thing she wanted was to sit in her cabin with nothing to do but stare at the wall and picture them dying, over and over. “I’ll stay at my post, sir. You’ll need someone to fill in until you name a new Chief...” Just saying the words almost undid her, but she gritted her teeth and hung onto her control.
“You’re my new Chief Helm Officer, Karyn,” Lorian said quietly.
She was stunned. “Me? But I’ve only been second chair for two months. I’m just a kid...”
Lorian knew from his own experience that Karyn had left childhood far behind at the moment she had heard the terrible news about her parents. “Your age and length of service are irrelevant,” he said, his voice steady and certain. “You are a gifted pilot, the best I have.”
He didn’t say the rest, but Karyn heard it in her head anyway... Now that Charlie Archer is dead. Her tears surged forth again, unstoppable, but she ignored them as she nodded firmly. “Thank you, Captain.”
Cautiously, he released his hold on her and stepped back, alert for any further signs of collapse. However, she was steady on her feet as she wiped her eyes dry. “I’ll stay at my post, sir,” she said again. “With your permission.”
He could not fault her for wanting to delay the full onslaught of her grief for a few more hours. “Very well. You’ll work your shift as usual,” he informed her, and she nodded gratefully.
-- -- --
Karyn performed her duties flawlessly, though she was silently weeping through much of her shift. Lorian did not make an issue of her tears, but neither did he ignore them. He simply accepted their presence and continued to address her as he always had. Karyn apparently found it preferable to the continued awkward silence of the rest of the bridge crew, judging from the way she gravitated toward him throughout the day. She took only ten minutes of her lunch break, using the time to stop by sickbay for a hypospray of analgesic and some eye drops from Dr. Kelsey, but she seemed markedly better afterward.
By the end of the first shift, the away team had not yet returned to Enterprise. Lorian noticed that Karyn relinquished her station with reluctance and did not leave the bridge, instead lingering uncertainly near the situation room. After making a quick call to the mess hall, Lorian approached her. “Karyn?”
She looked down at her fidgeting hands for a time before confessing quietly, “I don’t know where to go.”
“Do you have anyone...? A friend?” Lorian did not say “boyfriend,” but it was logical to assume she had a suitor, if not several.
“My roommate is on duty.” Karyn shook her head. “But she wouldn’t know what to say anyway. Nobody does. Nobody knows how it feels.” She glanced up at him. “Except you.”
Lorian remembered the days following his father’s sudden death...the pervasive sensation of being smothered by people who meant well, but coudn’t understand. His only consolation had been his mother, for she knew exactly the nature and profound depth of his loss.
He did not think it wise for Karyn to be alone, and she did seem more at ease in his presence than anyone else’s. “Then perhaps we might keep company with each other,” he suggested. She regarded him with some surprise. “Rest assured, I won’t offer you false assurances or platitudes,” he added. “Merely company.”
Slowly, she nodded. Lorian felt a sense of relief as he ushered her into the turbolift.
-- -- --
He coaxed her all the way into the Captain’s Mess before she balked self-consciously at the sight of the table set for two. “I’m really not good company.”
“You don’t need to be.” Lorian inspected the tureen of vegetable soup that the steward had set out, and ladled some into a bowl. “Please, have a seat.”
Cautiously, Karyn sat beside him, pointedly ignoring her place setting. She watched him taste his soup. Almost defiantly, she declared, “I’m not going to eat.”
“It’s not required,” Lorian replied mildly.
Stubbornly, Karyn turned toward the viewport. A minute passed before she began to weep again, soundlessly, her tears tracing a now-familiar path down her cheeks. Lorian rested his elbows on the table, steepled his fingers, and watched her. He knew he could do nothing to ease her sorrow, but he found himself wishing he could anyway. It wasn’t very logical.
“I should have gone with them,” she said softly. “I should’ve been there.”
“And died with them?” Lorian didn’t understand. “What purpose would that have served?”
“At least I would have been with them their last three days.” She bowed her head. “I was so selfish.”
Lorian realized with a start that she was experiencing guilt over her parents’ deaths, though he could not fathom why. “Explain.”
“As soon as you said I could fill in for Daddy, I didn’t want to go with them!” Karyn burst out. “I wanted to stay here—I wanted to be with you—” Shut up, shut up. Karyn put a hand over her mouth to stop herself from blurting out more. She didn’t need Lorian’s rejection on top of everything else. Then she’d have nothing at all.
Lorian could see that Karyn’s entire body was trembling now, with the weight of her anguish. He didn’t know which of them moved first, but in the next moment she was leaning against the solid support of his chest, and he had an arm resting comfortingly around her shoulders.
He had given solace to crewmembers in the past, but he had always maintained a professional distance. Why were circumstances different this time? Perhaps because Karyn was Charlie’s daughter, Jonathan’s great-granddaughter. And now...the only Archer.
Lorian had always been confounded by the concept of guilt, despite his mother’s diligent efforts to make it clear to him. But he did understand the shock of sudden loss. “Karyn, you can best honor your parents by living—by treasuring the life they gave you.” He tipped her chin up, feeling her hot tears fall onto his hand. “Remember the eighteen years you shared with them, rather than the three days you were separated.”
Karyn searched his face, and found deep understanding reflected in his clear blue eyes. As his words sank in, she felt memories of her parents starting to temper the pain...playtimes, meals together, struggles over schoolwork, family outings to Movie Night, peering through Olivia’s microscope, nudging the impulse engines forward for the first time as Charlie looked on proudly.
Lorian felt a tiny bit of tension ease from her body. It was a beginning.
Without leaving his embrace, she turned toward the stars again. Her lashes were still wet with tears. “Do Vulcans grieve?”
“Not the way humans do,” he replied. “It’s more a process of contemplation...recognizing a loss, accepting it, and doing honor to those lost, without giving full vent to emotion. But the grief is deeply felt, all the same.”
Her gaze shifted back to him. “Do you grieve?” she asked softly.
He did not shy away from the intimate question. “Yes.” As he held her eyes, he lowered his guard further, allowing her to see his own sadness. “I had great affection for your parents. I shall miss them, and I will long remember them.”
They sat in silence for a time, watching the stars.
Lorian saw a faint smile appear on Karyn’s lips. “I remember now,” she murmured. “I remember what we said.”
“I had no doubt that you would.”
“Daddy told me that being Chief Helm would scare the hell out of me, and be the most exciting time I ever had,” Karyn recalled. “Then Mom told me this was my chance to dazzle the captain. They both wished me luck, and I said, ‘I don’t need luck. I’m an Archer.’”
“Your mother was correct.” Lorian gave her a small but appreciative smile. “I was indeed dazzled.” She looked down shyly. He was only too glad to distract her with praise for her piloting expertise, even for a moment.
Karyn told her heart to stop fluttering. Of course he didn’t mean dazzled, not that way. He was talking about her piloting skills. He was Captain Lorian. He was Vulcan.
But...there was a subtle shift taking place between them. Not romance, nothing like that...though it did feel wonderful to be here, to feel his arm around her.
She’d always known that Lorian was brilliant, resourceful, fearless. But now she knew he had a taste for romantic adventure movies, and a sly wit, and a subversively mischievous streak that he must have picked up from his father. He was compassionate and caring. And...he grieved.
Karyn had lost her entire family today...but here in Lorian’s steady, undemanding presence, she did not feel alone.
She’d spent half her life idolizing him, spinning fantasies about him, loving him from afar. Now the fantasies were fading like faerie-dust into the long-ago...and in their place, something new was taking form, something genuine and substantial and wholly unexpected: the beginning of a friendship. For the first time in her life, Karyn felt as if she was finally getting to know the man.
The real Lorian was ever so much better than the fantasy.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Lorian brought Karyn’s hand to his chest and held it there. “Do you miss them?”
Karyn sighed. “But the alternative is never to have known them, or loved them...and that would be a greater loss.”
He saw her smile faintly in the dimness. “What are you remembering now?” he asked.
“I’m seeing that secret little wink my mother gave me in your ready room, when I realized she’d figured out how I felt about you. She was letting me know it was okay to stay on Enterprise with you.” Karyn looked away. “If she hadn’t done that, I probably would’ve been the good daughter and gone with them...and died.”
After a moment, Lorian said, “I remember your father recommending that I use you as his replacement while he was away.”
Karyn drew in an audible breath of surprise. “He never said...”
Lorian’s voice was soft. “I had been planning to send you on the away mission with your parents. If not for your father...”
The silence hung between them. Karyn opened her hand, palm flat against the warmth of Lorian’s chest. “Everything you know can change in one breath...one heartbeat.” She turned her face up to his. “The last thing Daddy said to me was, ‘Don’t waste a moment.’ I’ll remember that.” She reached up and kissed him on the cheek. “I love you.”
He shifted until they were face to face. He could see the starlight in her deep brown eyes as he stroked his fingers along her cheek. “And I you, beloved,” he whispered, and kissed her in return.
As soon as their lips touched, he knew that no kiss could be deep enough, no caress satisfying enough. It no longer felt...correct to be apart from her. He needed to be as close to her as two people could be. It wasn’t sufficient to tell her he loved her...he wanted to show her.
She was drawing away, pushing the covers aside, getting ready to leave. Lorian caught her hand, stopping her. “Your coming here at this late hour...does it constitute a clandestine rendezvous?” he asked.
Karyn stared silently at him, though her expression spoke volumes: surprise, enticement, arousal. The spark in her eyes increased tenfold. “Yes,” she finally replied. “Except we’re not married yet.”
She wanted him to be certain, he realized. Playfully, he smiled. “Perhaps we could modify your scenario.”
In reply, she fell joyfully into his arms.
They came together slowly this time, without urgency...exploring, tasting, filling their senses...giving, pleasing, teasing each other to ecstasy. And the question answered itself.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Archer was really becoming quite intolerable.
No, T’Pol amended, as she and T’Pau trudged behind him across the ancient stone landscape of the Forge. Not Archer, but this amalgam he had become: Archer, Surak’s katra, and the lingering presence of Syrran.
This concept of katras—the idea that Syrran had actually transferred Surak’s living spirit into Archer’s consciousness, along with Syrran’s own vestigial awareness—T’Pol believed it now. Not because of anything T’Pau had said, but because Archer was behaving like a...how would Trip put it?...like a high-and-mighty, know-it-all pain in the ass.
At times, the inherent emotionalism of certain human colloquialisms provided a clarity of meaning that the precision of Vulcan speech lacked entirely.
Whatever appellation T’Pol chose for this man, he was most certainly not Captain Archer. The Jonathan Archer she knew possessed the charmingly clueless chivalry to offer her his shades to protect her eyes from her native Vulcan sun. He joked nervously about sehlats, and struggled through the unforgiving heat of the Forge without complaint. He would never presume to tell her how to think or feel about her own culture...or her own mother.
No, this man who swaggered importantly ahead of her and T’Pau, insistent on holding both torch and Kir’Shara, hardly pausing for rest or water...this was not her captain and friend.
Even when his words sounded like Archer’s, as when he spoke of his lifelong bafflement regarding the Vulcan need to suppress emotions, those words were uttered with disdain, as if the speaker were insulting Archer’s past ignorance, rather than merely recognizing it.
Surak could not be treating Archer with such contempt, T’Pol decided. Perhaps she was reluctant to ascribe shortcomings to a man she so revered. However, she thought it more likely that Surak was focused on far more important matters. He had no energy to waste disciplining this errant spirit-shadow, who was evidently too reluctant to acknowledge, even in death, that he was no longer Surak’s “chosen” one.
It was little wonder to T’Pol that Surak had withheld the location of the Kir’Shara from Syrran, even after residing in the man’s mind for two years. From the moment T’Pol and Archer had first encountered Syrran, he had displayed the same prejudice as the High Command leaders whom he opposed; his distaste for Archer’s humanness was disappointing testament to that. Moreover, he exhibited a distressing lack of humility. T’Pol would not have been surprised had Syrran attempted to style himself as some sort of latter-day messiah—the bringer of the True Word of Surak.
How ironic that Syrran’s prophetic warning about the Forge was visited upon him, rather than Archer...and that he had the ill timing to die before he could reap the public rewards of his revolutionary fervor.
Grudgingly, T’Pol realized that she was not giving Syrran his due. He was a dedicated and dynamic disciple, a visionary. As he lay dying, his only thought had been to transfer the katra and ensure that Surak’s essence survived. But that honorable act did not give Syrran license to take advantage of Archer’s goodwill, and hijack his mind and body in this way.
T’Pol wished fervently to have her captain returned to her. He was growing more feverish and fatigued with each passing hour. She was uncertain whether he would endure long enough to reach the capital city and present the Kir’Shara to the ministers of the High Command. T’Pol feared not only for Archer’s health now, but his life.
She offered him water again, this time refusing to fall back when he cockily declined. She did not leave his side until he had taken a generous swallow.
She would endure Syrran’s arrogance in order to ensure Archer’s survival, and Surak’s. And when Surak’s katra was safely gone from Archer’s consciousness, then the stubborn echo of Syrran, his pitiful quest for the logician’s favor forcibly ended, would have no recourse but to accept his death and pass on into oblivion.
At least then he would be quiet.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
After Enterprise got underway to Vulcan, Hoshi received a second call from Captain Archer for Trip—this one private. Trip took it in the ready room.
He wasn’t at all surprised to hear about V’Las’s conniption fit; he only wished he’d been there to witness that pompous idiot’s emotional meltdown personally. But the rest of it was a lot to take in all at once. A forced mind-meld that left Archer with the spirit of a 2000-year-dead philosopher rattling around in his head? Recovery of a mythical artifact that essentially unseated the VHC and redefined Vulcan culture? Koss a good guy?... It would take a while for Trip to wrap his head around that one.
Then Archer told him about T’Les.
Long after the call had ended, Trip sat at the desk, staring at the silent viewscreen. He didn’t know what felt worse: his fury that V’Las’s punishment for murdering dozens of Syrrannites was to be “detained” for questioning, or his sadness that T’Les was dead.
He remembered back to the day of the wedding. He had changed out of the beautiful Vulcan robes he’d worn, and carefully laid them out on the bed of the guest room. He was ready for his escape—everything packed, his note to T’Pol waiting on the dresser. He tiptoed into the sunny central room, sneaking a look out the window. The wedding party was still in the sand garden. Now was his chance to steal away before anyone noticed he was gone.
Except he couldn’t find a back door out of the place. Every door led to a hallway, or another room. The house was like a beautiful, hand-carved wooden maze, and he was the rat finding all the dead ends.
He retraced his steps back to the central room to start over—and pulled up short. Across the room, at the doorway to the garden, T’Les was watching him.
Trip froze, expecting some kind of dressing-down for attempted desertion. However, T’Les merely pointed to a nondescript door on the far side of the kitchen. Then she gave him a tiny nod of respect. He nodded back to her and left without a word. It was the last time he’d seen her.
Trip had been looking forward to visiting T’Les again...bragging on her daughter, telling her about her grandson. He had hoped she and T’Pol would mend fences and start to figure each other out.
It wasn’t fair.
-- -- --
Malcolm reported to the ready room within seconds of Trip’s call. “Yes, Commander?”
Trip stacked a pile of padds on the desk. “Ship’s status reports, repair updates, injury reports, and my logs for the last few days, if you need ‘em for reference.”
Malcolm collected the padds with a faint look of puzzlement. “Sir?”
“As soon as we get to Vulcan, I’m turning command over to you,” Trip said.
“The captain’s not coming aboard?”
“Not right away. He’s at the capital, waiting for a Vulcan priest to arrive from Mt. Seleya and get Surak’s katra out of his head.”
Malcolm looked even more baffled.
“It’s a Vulcan thing,” Trip summed up. “Anyway, they’re gonna send a shuttle to pick up Soval, and the captain’s putting T’Pol on it.”
Malcolm fingered the padds in silence for a moment. “So T’Pol will arrive...alone...just as you’re taking yourself out of the loop.” A shadow of clear disapproval crossed his expression at the perceived impropriety.
Trip had expected a much bigger reaction, actually. “It was the captain’s idea, Malcolm,” he said mildly.
That wiped the judgmental look right off Malcolm’s face, leaving confusion to reign once more. Trip waved him to a seat across the desk. Malcolm sat stiffly, regarding him uncertainly.
“Her mother was at the Syrrannite camp when the Vulcans bombed it,” Trip explained quietly. “She was killed. And T’Pol got roughed up some, when V’Las’s commandos got hold of her.”
At once, Malcolm looked contrite. “I apologize. I meant no disrespect. However...” He hesitated. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”
“Aw, hell, Mal, sure.” Damn it all, but command protocols were a bitch.
“You must admit,” Malcolm began carefully, “your...relationship...with Commander T’Pol has been increasingly difficult to puzzle out.”
“Do tell,” Trip commented neutrally. This was gonna be interesting.
“At first you seemed closer, then further apart,” Malcolm went on. “After she married, I assumed that was that, but I was surprised to see you two get on quite well afterward.” He was picking up speed now, leaning forward. “Then Lorian arrived, and you two have been like peas in a pod ever since. And all the while, you’ve spoken nary a word to me about it. Now I haven’t the vaguest idea what to think.” He looked positively indignant now. “Can you blame a bloke for putting two and two together and coming up five?”
Trip gaped at him. “You’re chewing me out?! You’re the one who had the big crush on her! ‘Ohh, Trip, she has an aww-fully niiice bum!’...”
“That was ages ago!” Malcolm scoffed dismissively. “And I was sodding drunk at the time, if you’ll remember.” He folded his arms. “Come on, then. What’s your next excuse for ignoring me?”
“Ignoring...! I’ve been a little busy the last four months, thank you very much!” Trip shot back. “You would be too, if you were tryin’ to focus on just bein’ friends with the woman you’re crazy in love with, who’s married to somebody else, and you’re adjustin’ to a grown son you’ve never known, and a dyin’ wife you’ve never met, and Soong and Augments and Klingons and Orions, and Soval’s a good guy, and V’Las is a terrorist, and oh yeah, I find out T’Pol loves me too, but we can’t do anything about it, because we are honorable, not like that skunk husband of hers, except he might not be a skunk after all...”
Malcolm was laughing gently, apparently unable to hold it in any longer. Trip stopped, out of breath, realizing how silly he must sound. He leaned forward on the desk, his head in his hands, giving in to the laughter himself.
Finally Malcolm said, with unmistakable sympathy, “I believe I have a clearer picture now, Trip.”
“That makes one of us.” Trip ran his hands through his hair. “I feel as if I’ve been on a roller coaster with highs and lows and nothing in the middle. I could use a nice, quiet stretch of level ground—I’m dizzy.” He groaned. “What the hell am I complaining about? T’Pol’s gonna be a wreck.”
“I’ll do my best to give you that bit of quiet time,” Malcolm said. “You and T’Pol.”
Trip gave him a tired, grateful smile. “Thanks, Mal.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
As the shuttle from Vulcan made its final approach, Trip walked Soval to the airlock. “How are you feeling?” he asked the Vulcan.
“I am still somewhat...unsettled,” Soval replied. “Dr. Phlox assures me that it is transitory.”
“I could wring Shran’s neck for what he put you through,” Trip growled darkly. “He seemed to think you’d understand.”
“I do,” Soval replied.
“I misjudged the depth of his distrust,” Soval said matter-of-factly. “And I did not realize that my offer to assist him in averting the attack would be as lacking in credibility as it evidently was. The Commander had to satisfy himself regarding my sincerity, by whatever means he deemed necessary.” Soval gave a small shrug. “Given the highly volatile nature of Andorians in general, it is not surprising that he would turn to torture as a matter of course.”
Trip looked heavenward. Diplomats. He didn’t even bother to hide his exasperation. “This turn-the-other-cheek strategy of yours is noble an’ all, but it’s only practical when nobody cares what happens to you, and...” Soval was gazing intently at him. Trip found himself getting flustered. “Well, Lorian and T’Pol would’ve been pretty torn up if you’d gotten your brain all fried.”
Soval nodded. “I appreciate their concern for my welfare, Commander.”
Trip changed the subject. Quickly. “So what happens now that V’Las is out and T’Pau is in?”
“T’Pau and Minister Kuvak are disbanding the High Command and forming a new governing body to replace it, the Vulcan High Council,” Soval replied. “Its principles will be built on the writings of the Kir’Shara. This reformation will take time; there are many wrongs to be corrected, many injustices to be set right. T’Pau is energetic and focused, though young and still quite headstrong. She will do well, with guidance.”
“What about you? Are you going to be Councillor Soval?”
“I am a diplomat, not a politician,” the Vulcan replied. “I believe there is still much I have to offer as Ambassador to Earth—especially now that I can ‘be myself,’ as it were.” He grew pensive as he continued. “It is my responsibility, and my wish, to carry on the work I began with Admiral Forrest. I believe it is the destiny of your people and mine to work together, as you and I have these past few days.”
The airlock gauge flashed green. Soval raised his hand in the Vulcan ta’al. “Peace and long life.”
Trip returned the ta’al. “I hope to see you again soon, Soval.”
“And I you...” Soval paused. “Using your nickname will be beyond me, I’m afraid.”
Trip smiled as he opened the airlock. At least the man had tried. “When my mother wants to get my attention, she calls me Charles.”
“Charles.” Soval nodded. “It seems more appropriate for use by...a cantankerous old uncle. Perhaps I will use it when I wish to get your attention.”
As the old Vulcan entered the airlock, Trip said, “I look forward to hearing the end of our conversation from before. About T’Pol.”
“I shall not forget,” Soval replied. However, I hope you find yourself having that conversation with T’Pol herself. It will be a much more satisfying enlightenment.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
T’Pol rose and hoisted her backpack. Every time she lifted it, the pack seemed heavier. She paused at the shuttle’s tiny viewport to look down at Vulcan. She could see the capital from here...and the Forge, where she and Captain Archer had buried her mother.
As she lingered at the viewport, Soval joined her. “I grieve with you, T’Pol.” His voice with soft with compassion. He said no more, simply offering solace with his presence. T’Pol felt greatly comforted by her mentor’s quiet support. They stood side by side for a time, gazing down at their homeworld together.
-- -- --
T’Pol emerged slowly from the airlock into Enterprise’s corridor, her eyes downcast. Trip took in her appearance at a glance—her white desert suit torn and dirty, one calf bandaged, a harsh green bruise darkening her left cheek. Her expression had a solemnity to it that had nothing to do with Vulcan stoicism. It made his heart ache.
The sound of the airlock hatch hissing shut seemed to rouse her. She blinked, and her eyes found his. He saw a sadness in them that seemed to go on forever...but also a kind of peace.
Wordlessly he opened his arms, and she moved into them. It was the first time they had embraced each other in months. He felt her trembling, fighting to hold her emotions in. “Just a little longer, t’hai’la,” he soothed. “We’ll have Phlox check you out, and then get you settled.”
After they stopped by sickbay, Trip shepherded T’Pol to her quarters. She was exhausted—she hadn’t slept the whole time she’d been on Vulcan. And she was quiet. It was better than hysterics or uncontrollable tears, but she still had Trip concerned.
He walked her straight into her bathroom, where he turned on the shower for her. As the hot water enveloped the room in steam, T’Pol stood, unmoving. Stepping behind her, Trip carefully peeled off her filthy desert suit and boots, briefly noting and compartmentalizing the spectacular view for later wistful contemplation. T’Pol needed her best friend now, not an ogling, would-be lover.
As he guided her into the shower, T’Pol turned back, meeting his eyes. He could see, past her pain, gratitude. She touched his cheek briefly before moving behind the frosted glass. He retreated, giving her some privacy.
T’Pol let the hot water cascade over her, letting it seep into her wind-dried skin. It stung her cuts and her lacerated leg, but she welcomed the physical pain as a signal that she was returning to the conscious world. It was time. After she had been reunited with Captain Archer at Shi’Kahr, and had satisfied herself that he would be properly cared for, T’Pol had retreated behind her emotional walls to begin at last the painful, solitary journey of grieving and accepting her mother’s loss. It was not until now, feeling Trip’s soft touch as he undressed her, and seeing the gentle understanding in his eyes, that she realized she need not make the journey alone.
When she stepped out of the shower, she found soft, loose lounging attire laid out for her, and her favorite sand-colored robe. She dressed and emerged from the bathroom to find her cabin lit with meditation candles and fragrant with the aroma of chamomile tea. Trip met her, holding two freshly-poured cups. He had changed into an open-necked shirt and slacks; she saw his duffel bag tucked unobtrusively in a corner.
“Feeling a little better?” he asked.
She nodded. She was vaguely confused by his presence. “How can you be here?”
“We’re both off duty till the captain gets back.” He passed her a cup of tea. She nodded, accepting his statement without question.
She let him guide her again—it was a relief not to think—to her bunk. She curled up on the bed, propping herself against her pillows, as Trip produced a coverlet of some sort...hand-crafted of yarn in an intricate design, in pleasing shades of gold and brown.
Trip draped the afghan over her lap and tucked it around her. “My mom crocheted this for me when I was a kid. She said she wove some love into it.” He smiled. “Whenever I was in a rough patch, I’d pull it out and snuggle up with it. Always made me feel better.”
As T’Pol ran her fingers over the soft yarn, Trip eased onto the bunk beside her, stretching his long legs out. Without another word, he gathered her in his arms. She rested her head on his chest, feeling his heartbeat, his breath on her hair, his hand gently stroking her arm. They stayed that way, sipping their tea, gaining strength and sustenance from simply being in close contact, after so many months of denying themselves.
Finally, T’Pol spoke. “She loved Lorian.”
She looked up at him, her eyes glittering with unshed tears. “You were correct. My mother loved him, as we do.”
Trip could tell that she wasn’t speaking figuratively. “How...?”
“She melded with me,” T’Pol said. “Just before she died. It lasted for only a few moments, but...we shared memories, felt what was in each other’s hearts. I gave her Lorian, and Karyn, and you. She understood.” T’Pol’s face filled with that same peace Trip had seen at the airlock. “She accepted. She was pleased for us... She said she was proud of me.”
Trip hugged her close. “Darlin’, I’m so glad you two were together.”
“As I felt her life slip away, we were closer than we had ever been. I felt for the first time that she knew me. It was her parting gift...what I most needed.” T’Pol frowned faintly as a single tear spilled down her cheek. “I don’t understand. Why do I still feel such pain? Why is my mind not at ease regarding her loss?”
“You miss her, is all,” Trip said soothingly. “You miss her even more because you were so close at the last.”
T’Pol still looked perplexed as she brushed her tear away. “Surely I should be able to cope as well as Lorian did when he lost his mother.”
“This isn’t a contest,” Trip chided her gently. “Everybody reacts in their own way to loss. Lorian was with his mom every day for a hundred years, and he still took it hard.”
Trip’s statement took T’Pol by surprise. “But he was so composed.”
Trip knew T’Pol hadn’t seen Lorian earlier, right after he’d lost his mom. No one had, except for Trip. The two of them had remained sequestered in T’Pol’s quarters as Lorian fell apart, his wracking sobs tearing at Trip’s heart. As Trip held him and soothed him, he had truly felt like a father to Lorian, for the first time. “He did a lot of grieving to get there,” Trip said quietly.
T’Pol pulled back and studied Trip’s somber face, considering his words. She remembered seeing them both emerge from her quarters, after their vigil over old T’Pol had ended. They had both looked exhausted...but Lorian had a peacefulness about him that told T’Pol he had found the strength to accept his loss. Trip, by contrast, appeared emotionally devastated. She had thought at the time that his sadness was due entirely to her marriage and their forced separation. But now, she realized... “You helped him,” she said. “You took his sorrow onto yourself, to ease his burden.”
“I watched him, as he watched his mother fading away,” Trip murmured. “I knew I’d do anything I could for him.”
T’Pol quietly marveled. “You live by the words of Surak without realizing it.”
He looked down at her in puzzlement. “What do you mean?”
She quoted from the Kir’Shara. “‘Grief is the only way we move forward from loss... Shared sorrow lightens grief.’”
“That’s Surak?” Trip asked dubiously. “Father-of-Logic Surak? Talking about emotion? You’re pullin’ my leg.”
T’Pol retrieved her desert backpack from the foot of her bunk and dug a padd out of one of the pockets. “T’Pau gave me a copy of the Kir’Shara before I left Vulcan. It is only a raw, literal translation of the Old Vulcan text, but the differences between Surak’s original writings and their current interpretation is nevertheless quite stark.”
She scrolled through the text on the padd. “There is a passage regarding emotion...specifically the necessity of emotion. Surak tells us that, rather than battling or denying our emotions, we should embrace them as part of who we are—part of the balance that must exist between logic and emotion. Pure logic is incomplete, for it lacks the advantage of intuition, and the wisdom of empathy. It is crucial to keep emotion in its proper context, where, in private, it can be celebrated freely. However, logic must be its master. Emotion must always be kept under control, lest it take control of us, which would be our undoing.”
Trip was amazed, and impressed. “And I thought every Vulcan’s fondest wish was to have their emotions surgically removed. Like you would a tumor or something.”
“Including myself,” T’Pol confessed. “All my life, my emotions have been more difficult to suppress than for the typical Vulcan.”
T’Pol shrugged faintly. “A genetic defect, nothing more.”
“Or a gift,” he corrected her.
Now it was T’Pol’s turn to be puzzled. “Explain.”
“Think about it. It’s this genetic...difference...that’s enabled you to work on a ship alongside humans longer than any other Vulcan, ever. Right? And because of that, you’re demonstrating the feasibility of joint missions between humans and Vulcans.” Trip smiled. “It’s the reason I met you. That means it’s also why Lorian was born. God, that would mean...it’s why the universe was saved from the Xindi and the Sphere Builders.” He shook his head in wonder. “Damn...the moment you were conceived and your DNA formed, you had inside you the key to saving the universe.”
T’Pol was quite taken aback by his declaration. She saw that he was perfectly sincere...awestruck, in fact. “Then we would have to acknowledge that the moment of your birth was no less important,” she said. “Lorian is your son as well.”
Trip grinned. “I’m thinkin’ we don’t need to use that word ‘defect’ anymore. That Kir’Shara’s a real eye-opener.”
T’Pol contemplated her new perspective. “If this is any indication, the Kir’Shara will compel me to re-examine a great many beliefs that I never before had cause to question. The prospect is somewhat daunting. I am uncertain how to approach the task.”
Trip sat back speculatively. “Sometimes the best way to learn something is to teach it to somebody else.”
She regarded him with surprise. “You?”
“I knew there was a reason I never got around to reading the Teachings of Surak,” Trip said airily. “I was waiting for the original, unabridged version.”
“You wish me to teach you the word of Surak...?” T’Pol’s voice was hushed with astonishment.
He was getting a kick out of how shocked she was. “I know, I’m probably the least logical person you’ll ever meet. And I was perfectly happy to be...before. But now things are different. We’ve been thinking alike a lot more lately, have you noticed? I don’t quite understand it, and I need to. I need to understand you.” He tapped the padd in her hand. “And Surak—this Surak—is going to be a big part of you.”
T’Pol listened raptly, overwhelmed.
“We could tackle a little bit every evening, when I come by after shift’s over,” Trip offered. “I’m warning you—I’m an engineer, not a philosopher. You’ll have to go slow. But I’m game if you are.”
At last T’Pol recovered her composure. “I am...game, as well.” Her eyes sparkled playfully. “Are you as open-minded regarding meditation?”
Trip blanched. “Now, hold on. One monumentally impossible task at a time, okay? Baby steps, I’m takin’ baby steps.” He took the padd and her teacup away from her. “And we’re not starting tonight, either. You haven’t slept for days. It’s time for you to shut your brain off for a while.”
T’Pol eyed Trip hesitantly. “Are you...?”
He pointed to the meditation pallet across the room. “I can sleep there.” For a moment, T’Pol looked like a frightened little girl afraid of being left alone in the dark. “Or I can stay right here,” Trip said at once, reassuringly. “Whatever you need, t’hai’la, I will give you.”
She looked grateful. “Here,” she said softly.
“Here I stay, then,” he smiled, tightening his arm comfortingly around her shoulders.
-- -- --
Trip awoke a few hours later to find T’Pol shivering under the afghan. “What is it, t’hai’la?” he asked.
“I can’t get warm.” She shook her head. “I don’t understand...”
Trip suspected it was residual shock. Without another word, he got up, gently maneuvering her bedcovers out from under her. He hesitated only a moment before climbing into bed beside her, pulling the covers over them both. He snuggled in close, wrapping his arms around her, warming her with his body. Almost immediately, she stopped trembling, and within a minute, her even breathing told him that she had fallen back asleep.
He pulled her closer, simply enjoying the feel of her in his arms, the sweet scent of her. It had been so long.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
T’Pol was in the conference room, gazing out the viewport at the vast desert expanse of Vulcan below. Beside her, Trip leaned casually against the sill, arms folded, grinning at her. “So help me, I’m starting to think of you as the cantankerous but benevolent uncle of our extended family.”
Uncle...? Surely he wasn’t referring to her. T’Pol looked behind her. Soval was standing at the viewport as well. He had an amused twinkle in his eye that reminded her of Lorian. “Shall I take that as a compliment?” he asked.
T’Pol shifted her attention back to Trip. Now he was looking at her, she was certain. He nodded toward Soval. “He knows something he’s not telling me,” he said slyly. Then he winked at her. “You got any ideas?”
-- -- --
T’Pol jerked awake. Beside her, Trip looked as if he had just been startled awake as well. Neither had moved since last night; they were still nestled in each other’s arms.
“Somethin’ woke me,” Trip murmured. He frowned fuzzily, then shrugged. “Can’t remember. Musta been a dream.”
T’Pol’s dream was still vivid in her mind. Several possible explanations presented themselves, but she was not prepared to go in search of the correct one at the moment.
Trip stifled a yawn. “I haven’t slept that well since you got m...” —he gave her a lopsided smile— “...since my last fun-filled vacation on Vulcan.” He kissed her on the forehead. “How’re you doing?”
“Better,” she said. “I was glad of your company last night.”
“Nowhere else I wanted to be, darlin’.” Trip rolled out of bed. “Hungry? We could get some breakfast in the mess hall. Or if you’re more comfortable staying here, I can bring something—”
The comm signaled. “Bridge to Commander T’Pol.” It was Hoshi.
T’Pol answered the hail. “T’Pol here.”
“There’s a shuttle from Vulcan docking in about ten minutes. Koss is aboard. He’s coming to see you.”
T’Pol went very still. “Thank you, Lieutenant,” she said quietly, and broke contact.
Trip made a sour face. “What does he want?” But when he saw T’Pol’s face, as she rose and moved slowly away from the bunk, his blood ran cold. “T’Pol?”
She had gone very pale. “It is logical to assume that he is coming for me...that he has come to call me home.”
Trip felt a pain stab through his heart. It was the same pain he’d felt on the Fire Plains of Vulcan, when T’Pol had told him she was going to marry Koss. Suddenly it was almost impossible to breathe. “Now? Why? Why now?” he stammered.
“I have no family, now that my mother is dead,” T’Pol said. Her voice was flat. “Tradition dictates that I become a member of my husband’s family, subject to their wishes. Koss’s parents have made no secret of their disapproval of my intermingling with humans. They will doubtless insist that I sever all ties with Starfleet at once, and turn to a more respectable vocation...”
She seemed to be in a haze of shock. Trip went to her, taking her shoulders. “They can’t make you do that. Can they?”
She wasn’t looking at him. She wasn’t looking at anything. “Obeying the wishes of one’s family is important in our culture...”
Trip started pacing, trying to think of an alternative. Trying to breathe. “You still have family. You have Lorian.”
Slowly, T’Pol shook her head. “His existence would likely not be recognized as legitimate, despite the evidence. A spouse has precedence over children, in any case.”
He stopped in front of her. “We could fight this. I could...” But he trailed off, knowing he wouldn’t.
“I am Koss’s wife,” T’Pol said quietly. “I made a promise. I must honor it.”
“I know,” he whispered.
“We knew this could happen.”
Trip saw tears glistening in her eyes. “I didn’t expect it to happen now. I guess I hoped...” He took her hands in his. “I don’t want you to leave Enterprise. I don’t want you to leave me. I need you, t’hai’la. My heart’s gotten used to you.” He could feel tears in his own eyes, too. “I can’t believe this may be happening now...”
T’Pol focused on him. “There is still hope. No one knows the future.” She gripped his hands tightly. “You must remain strong, t’hai’la. I will need your strength.”
He nodded. For her, he would do anything.
The comm whistled. “Bridge to Commander T’Pol.” Hoshi again.
T’Pol crossed to the comm panel at her desk. Trip, unwilling to let go of her hand, went with her. “T’Pol.”
“The shuttle has docked, Commander. Koss is on his way to your quarters.”
“Acknowledged.” T’Pol turned to Trip, wordless, resigned. As he gazed at her, so anguished, and yet so achingly beautiful, he was reminded of how she looked on the day of her wedding.
“I’d better get out of here,” he said. He looked down at his hand, still stubbornly clutching hers, refusing to detach itself. “I’m afraid to let you out of my sight...”
“He will not spirit me away,” T’Pol said. “Even if he is calling me home, arrangements will need to be made.” She touched his face in a gentle ozh’esta. “I will see you after he leaves.”
Trip nodded. He kissed her hand. “I’ll be close by.” Finally, he tore himself away from her and left her cabin.
He darted around the corner from her quarters as he heard measured footsteps approaching from the other direction. Flattening himself against the bulkhead, he listened, hearing her door chime, her soft “Enter,” the door opening and closing. Then...silence.
His heart felt as if it were shattering. There was a deep, heavy ache in the pit of his stomach. How the hell was he going to do this?
First off, stop thinking about your own sorry ass.
Right. He had to be strong for T’Pol.
Don’t worry, t’hai’la. I’m right here. We’ll get through this.
He sank down to the deck, barely breathing. Waiting.
-- -- --
Koss stopped just inside the door of T’Pol’s quarters. Unlike the last time they met, he did not approach her or make any attempt to touch her. But T’Pol had also felt much more in control of the situation during their previous meeting. This time she felt distressingly powerless and vulnerable.
She imagined Trip still standing with her, holding her hand. She could almost hear his voice...
Don’t worry, t’hai’la. I’m right here. We’ll get through this.
As the words echoed soothingly through her, she calmed. She felt more sure of herself as she addressed Koss. “Captain Archer asked me to express his gratitude. He wouldn’t have succeeded without the transporter codes you supplied.”
“The captain told me you were in danger,” Koss replied. “I wouldn’t have been a very good husband if I didn’t help.” He paused, his voice softening. “He also told me about your mother. I grieve with you, T’Pol.”
T’Pol inclined her head, but said nothing, still very much on guard.
Koss continued. “Now that she is gone...”
T’Pol steeled herself for her life sentence of exile.
“...I’m releasing you from our marriage,” he finished.
If he had thrown a glass of ice water in her face, she would not have been more startled. It took her a moment to find her voice. “Explain.”
Koss hesitated, looking apologetic. “We married under false pretenses.”
“I’m well aware of that,” T’Pol snapped. “You blackmailed me—marriage in exchange for helping my mother. You had an agenda.”
“No,” Koss said quietly. “My parents had an agenda.”
T’Pol hadn’t expected this, either. “Continue.”
“Insisting on the marriage was not my doing. You had made it quite clear that you did not want me.” At this, Koss looked somewhat downcast. “However, my parents sought favor with Administrator V’Las. They learned that he wished to uncover the identities of suspected Syrrannites, and that your mother was one of those suspected. They knew that if we were family, I could observe her movements without suspicion.”
Before T’Pol could respond, Koss turned away, to the viewport. He gazed out at the blackness, his face averted from her. “When my parents brought up our betrothal again, I thought it was for the sake of tradition. That was my reason for marrying you. It was only after you had returned to Enterprise that they told me your mother was a suspected Syrrannite, and that they expected me to...to spy on her.”
“Did you?” T’Pol asked.
“No.” Koss’s voice was hard as flint. “I found the idea repugnant.”
T’Pol arched a suspicious eyebrow. “She told me you spoke a great deal about her mistrust of the High Command, and her dissatisfaction with Vulcan society.”
Koss faced her again. “I spoke with her of those matters because I, too, am disenchanted,” he responded earnestly. “And because I believe you have been undervalued and ill-used by the High Command. I told my parents that I learned nothing from your mother. When she gave me the IDIC necklace, I didn’t tell them. I only told you.”
T’Pol studied him warily. He seemed sincere. “It appears your parents’ efforts to curry V’Las’s favor were for naught,” she observed.
Koss’s tone turned ironic. “I admit to an odd sense of satisfaction, knowing that. With V’Las no longer in power, my parents are now distancing themselves—jettisoning all unsavory elements that may cause them dishonor. Including you, T’Pol.” He looked deeply ashamed. “They consider you a disgrace to the family.”
T’Pol was disgusted. “Your parents’ fickle loyalties do them no honor.”
Koss’s expression mirrored her own. “My father did not attain his current position of power and influence by standing steadfast with losers and lost causes.”
Suddenly T’Pol was furious with Koss—not only because of the pain he had inflicted on her, but because of the suffering he had let his parents inflict on him. “You allow them to dictate to you at their whim—whom to marry, whom to abandon...”
“You know as well as I that obeying the wishes of one’s parents is expected,” Koss said evenly. But as he looked steadily at her, his expression softened into something very much like yearning. “Nevertheless, I could defy them and fight to keep you as my wife...”
T’Pol felt a fresh burst of panic at his statement. Koss had affection for her! All the questions about her that he had showered on T’Les had nothing to do with his clandestine assignment to extract information from her. T’Pol was powerless to stop him if he chose to remain her husband.
Her face must have betrayed her, for Koss shook his head, looking wistful now. “Be at peace, T’Pol. I have no wish for you to be discontent. I know you only married me to help your mother. She’s gone now; there is no reason to continue the marriage for her sake. And I have always known that you were not one to follow a conventional path.” He glanced around her quarters. “You were meant for the stars. Your future...and no doubt, your future bondmate...are here.”
T’Pol found her anger for Koss fading, while her fury toward his parents grew exponentially. “Koss, your parents used you, as they used me! It is unconscionable.”
“Their goal was logical to them,” he said, his voice impassive. “When one is set on a path, one can convince oneself of the logic of it.”
Clearly, Koss had long ago resigned himself to his parents’ less than honorable methods. That still did not make the situation acceptable. “You deserve better,” T’Pol told him. “A mate who is worthy, who values you.”
Koss seemed touched by her words. “You are not unworthy, T’Pol.” He drew himself up, and she saw a self-assured calm come over him that was not affectation. “But now that I have released you, I shall go in search of another such worthy woman.”
“I hope you find her soon,” T’Pol said, with genuine sincerity.
He arched an eyebrow knowingly. “I do not need to hope the same for you. You have already found such a mate in Commander Tucker, have you not?”
“Koss,” she said gravely, “I have not dishonored you or our marriage.”
“I know,” he replied, with the same sincerity she had shown him. She saw a tiny spark of amusement in his eyes. “I would expect no less of a worthy woman.” He raised his hand formally in the ta’al. “Peace and long life, T’Pol.”
T’Pol studied him for a moment, quietly astounded by the enormity of the changes that had come to pass during the last few minutes. Did Koss realize the profound gift he had just given her? From the glimpse she had seen in his sad eyes of the price his heart was paying to release her, she believed he did. She found that she no longer regarded him with animosity, but with understanding and respect. She touched her fingers to his cheek in a soft ozh’esta. “Peace and long life, Koss.”
Hesitantly, he returned her gesture of affection. As his fingers caressed her cheek, she saw a final, fleeting glimpse of that wistful longing in his eyes, before he composed his face into a placid Vulcan mask. “Good-bye, T’Pol.”
-- -- --
Trip heard T’Pol’s cabin door slide open and shut. He made himself count to ten, giving Koss enough time to be gone. Then he got to his feet, rounded the corner—and stopped dead.
Koss was standing outside the closed cabin door, looking directly at him. “Commander Tucker,” he acknowledged.
Trip remained frozen in place. “Koss.” He didn’t know what to expect. Was Koss taking T’Pol away? Was he going to break Trip in half for daring to love her?
But Koss’s expression held no malice or jealousy. In fact, there was a sadness in his eyes that Trip could feel, even from several meters away.
“Take care of her,” Koss said simply.
Trip stared at him, dumbfounded. The guy’s request was genuine, Trip could tell. Something extraordinary had happened in there with T’Pol, and now Koss was leaving. He was leaving her.
Trip answered him. “I will. To my last breath.”
Koss nodded, then headed away without another word.
Trip felt a spark of hope reigniting inside him as he bolted to T’Pol’s door and keyed it open. He found her standing in the middle of her quarters, wearing the same look of stunned shock that Trip figured he still had plastered on his face. “T’Pol?”
“His parents were using him as a pawn,” she said, sounding a little dazed. “They wanted information from my mother about the Syrrannites. He didn’t know he was being positioned as a spy until after the marriage. He believed he was following tradition...”
He took her hands. “Darlin’, what did he do?”
“He released me from our marriage,” T’Pol said.
Trip felt his spark of hope exploding into elation. “You mean...?”
She nodded. With a joyful whoop, Trip grabbed her by the waist and picked her up, twirling her around in a circle as his joy burst out of him in a cascade of delighted laughter. She took his shoulders as he flew her around, gazing down at him with the most exquisite of smiles.
Finally he set her down, cupping her face in his hands, losing himself in those beautiful, deep brown eyes. “My God, T’Pol. My God... Am I dreaming? Am I breathing? Have I died? Am I in heaven? Is this really happening?”
“It is real, t’hai’la,” she said softly. “We are together.”
Then, for the first time in forever, they were kissing each other. Slowly at first, reacquainting themselves with the taste and feel of one another after so long apart. Tongues teased and danced, as hands caressed familiar haunts long neglected. Soon they were touching and stroking everywhere, needing each other more than air.
Trip had her robe off and most of her tunic’s buttons undone, and he was nibbling his way down her delectable throat when he figured he’d better ask, just to make sure. “This ‘release’ thing that Koss did...it’s the same as a divorce, right?”
T’Pol had stripped him to the waist. “To a certain degree,” she hummed in reply.
To a certain...? Not good, not good at all. Trip stopped nibbling. “That’s not the same as ‘yes’.”
T’Pol sighed. “There is a bureaucratic process to be endured before the Vulcan Social Ministry declares the marriage legally dissolved.”
He groaned. “You’re...still...married?” He was going to need a long cold shower. He was gonna need to sit in a tub of ice, for corn sakes. He sank down onto one of her meditation pillows. “How long is this ‘process’ going to take?”
She sat on a pillow beside him. Her tunic was hanging together by a single, tenacious button, and her hair was beautifully mussed around her flushed face. The view was indescribably wonderful. “Vulcan bureaucracy is quite thorough,” she stated clinically. “The dissolution of a marriage is never taken lightly. Koss and his family will be interviewed to determine the reason that he released me. I doubt his parents will admit to blackmail, or a desire to curry favor with a disgraced former member of the High Command. They will likely claim that I proved an unacceptable wife.”
“What?!” Trip declared indignantly.
“For example: I did not reside with my husband following the wedding ceremony, as tradition dictates...”
“His family agreed to that!”
“I have been censured numerous times by the High Command,” T’Pol pointed out.
“And I have a shameful reputation for emotional outbursts, as well as an affinity for humans.”
“But that’s gonna come into favor as soon as Soval gets his joint-mission project off the ground,” Trip insisted.
T’Pol raised one lovely eyebrow. “Would you prefer they made no objections and I remained married to Koss?”
Trip looked properly abashed. “I’ll shut up and follow your lead, t’hai’la.”
“Excellent,” she said with satisfaction. “We will hope that Koss and his parents do as much damage as possible to my reputation, then.”
“Right,” he nodded obediently.
They sat side by side in silence. Trip awkwardly folded his arms, to make sure he wouldn’t run the risk of going hog-wild again. He tried to remember how he had controlled himself for three...endless...months. “Okay, then. You’re still married. Nothing’s changed.” He tried not to sound too hangdoggy.
T’Pol laced her fingers delicately over one silk-clad knee. “I did not say that nothing has changed.”
Trip looked more closely at her. Her eyes were dancing merrily. She looked positively puckish. “Talk to me, T’Pol.”
“Legally, I am married until the Vulcan Social Ministry declares the union dissolved.” T’Pol’s voice had a pleasing lilt now. “But from a moral perspective...”
She was doing this on purpose, just to drive him nuts. She had to be. Damn it all, it was working, too. “Yesssss...?” he prompted.
“The declaration of release frees both spouses from the vows they took when they married,” T’Pol explained. “In our culture, Koss’s declaration now makes it possible for both of us to act, without dishonor, on any affection we might have...for another.” She regarded Trip intently now. Expectantly.
Oh my GOD.
“Act without dishonor? Did I hear you right?”
She nodded. And smiled coyly.
“Good enough for me.” He practically tackled her. Then they really made up for lost time.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Later, they lay in a deliciously sated tangle in her bunk, lazily nuzzling each other.
“Is this the Ever After that the captain wished for us?” T’Pol asked, as she played idly with the hair on Trip’s chest.
“I guess so,” he smiled. He kissed her fingers. “Because we’re together, for as long as Ever lasts.”
“Then I am content,” she sighed happily.
“I don’t know how this is gonna play out,” Trip mused. “Earth and Vulcan...Starfleet and the Vulcan High Whatever-the-hell that T’Pau’s putting together...somehow I don’t think anybody else is ready to see the two of us married.”
She raised up and eyed him curiously. “Was that a proposal?”
He grinned. “If it was, it stunk.” He sat up and took her hand in his. He hadn’t planned this, so he just spoke from the heart. “T’Pol, darlin’, t’hai’la...you’re my best friend, and my heart’s delight. You’re the other half of my soul. Will you marry me?”
T’Pol was speechless with emotion for a moment, as she gazed into his adoring blue eyes. Finally she responded, “Charles Tucker, my t’hai’la...you are my best friend, and you stirred my heart to love. You are my soul’s compass. Yes, I will marry you.”
They sealed their promise with a kiss.
“I suggest we follow Lorian and Karyn’s lead and keep our engagement a secret, until we learn more concerning the professional ramifications of marrying,” T’Pol said, ever practical. “We may need to enlist the support of Captain Archer and Ambassador Soval.” She studied Trip’s face. “And you will need to amend your expression as soon as possible.”
Trip was beaming so broadly, he thought he would burst. “Give me a few hours. Maybe I can work it down to an idiotic grin.” He kissed her soundly again. “Hell, I want to marry you right now.”
She shook her head primly. “Even if we could, we would not. We will need time. Several weeks, at least.”
Trip nodded. “Yeah, yeah. Koss’s family needs time to trash your reputation to the Vulcan Social Ministry and get you unmarried.”
“Actually, you mentioned that it would take you several weeks to learn the wedding vows in Vulcan.”
Trip was charmed. “You want that? A traditional Vulcan wedding, like Lorian said we had? I mean, the other—y’know, his folks?”
She was nodding. “That would be most agreeable.”
“You can teach me the vows, then.”
He could swear he saw a faint flush of green color her cheeks. “I should prefer to hear you speak them for the first time during the ceremony,” she said, a little shyly.
Looking at her, Trip imagined that the phrase “blushing bride” could not be more apt. “Okay,” he said softly. “I’ll get Hoshi to help me out.” Abruptly his face lit up, and he made a dive for her terminal. “We gotta call the kids and tell them!” He grabbed his slacks and climbed into them as he started tapping keys. “Is there a Vulcan version of Best Man and Maid of Honor? If not, maybe we could cheat a little. It would be amazing if Lorian and Karyn could be a part of the ceremony...”
T’Pol smiled to herself as she watched Trip put through the call to Earth. She had been so devastated just a day ago, but she could not remember feeling happier than she did at this moment. Was she dishonoring her mother’s memory? T’Pol searched the residual memories she still felt from the mind-meld. T’Les had understood...she had wanted her daughter and Trip to be together. T’Pol imagined that T’Les would be quite content if she were here.
“Hold on. They’re not at the Starfleet compound anymore.” Trip was frowning at the viewscreen, tapping more keys. T’Pol pulled on her robe and joined him at the desk. They watched together as the new screen came up. A slow smile spread on Trip’s face. “Columbia. I’ll be damned.”
“Commander Lorian, Chief Engineer,” T’Pol read off the crew roster. “Lieutenant Karyn Archer, Chief Helm Officer.” She felt a burst of pride for them both, although she knew it would be unseemly to admit feeling such an emotion. Well, perhaps not to Trip.
“When did all this happen? They never even told us!” Trip punched in his security codes.
“What are you doing?” T’Pol asked.
“Checking the engineering logs.”
Trip scanned through the logs with a practiced eye. “Look here,” he pointed triumphantly. “Lorian’s only been on the ship three days, and warp efficiency has improved twelve per cent. That’s our boy!”
T’Pol reached past him and entered her own security codes, then called up the bridge logs. “Karyn’s performance in efficiency drills has surpassed that of Columbia’s previous helm officers by forty-seven per cent,” she observed.
“Captain Hernandez has her priorities straight, that’s for sure,” Trip chortled. “She’ll probably dance at their wedding, and policy be hanged.”
T’Pol brought up Lorian and Karyn’s official Starfleet profiles. She and Trip gazed at them with parental satisfaction. “They look quite becoming in their uniforms,” T’Pol remarked.
“Look at the stats...all the skills they were rated on. Pretty impressive when it’s all listed in one place.” Trip slipped his arm around T’Pol. “Those are our kids, T’Pol. Our family. It’s gonna be something watching them light up Starfleet.” He chuckled. “And each other.”
“Captain Archer will be most pleased,” T’Pol nodded.
“Captain Archer will be most pissed,” Trip snorted. “You know how he hates missing out on stuff.”
“In the case of Karyn and Lorian, he will need to become accustomed to it,” T’Pol replied. “I doubt their careers will advance slowly enough for him to witness every milestone.”
They went back to their contemplation of the viewscreen.
“Someone will have to inform the captain of this when he returns,” T’Pol mused, without looking up from the screen.
“I’m not telling him,” Trip answered as he scrolled down. “You tell him.”
“I’m not telling him.”
Trip grinned. “We’ll get Malcolm to do it. He’s been feeling left out...”
Return to Part I (Chapters 1-5)
There is a sequel to this story, Never and Always...
Return to The Reconnecting Series MENU page.
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A whole mess of folks have made comments
Man, when I saw that this was a sequel to your other stories I pretty much leaped for joy!!!! You could do a thousand sequels to this story and I'd never get tired of it! So of course I will bug here about more of this, because it's one of my fav stories! ;-)
First! There's no link to get from the first half to the second. Doesn't stop me from getting here, though.
Second. ***THUD*** I adore this. I adore it I adore it I adore it!
I loved it. I just want to know one thing. Which couple will get married first?
Finally! THANK YOU!!!!! What a most, most wonderful series!
This was just AWESOME... it was excellent in so many ways, it's hard to find appopriate superlatives. My absolute favorite part is T'Pol snarking on Surak/Super!Archer... "just shut up already!" Gosh, was that great! Snicker! Snort! Hee hee hee!
Uncle Soval! Hee hee hee!
Sorry, gotta go read it again.
You know you have to do another sequel. Too many loose ends: Dr. Soong for one. And what about the weddings!! I wanna read about them!
I absolutely *adored* this sequel! Kudos for so many entertaining and emotional passages. I just love it how it has all turned out perfectly, though finding out that Koss wasn't quite the rat we all thought he was will take time to sink in. I loved the revelation about Soval too. The only pity now is that the journey is over, or is it but the first step of a still wider journey? (Hope, hope). Thank you by the bucket loads, Ali D :~)
That was bliss! I hope this isn't the end, there are at least TWO weddings now, and I for one want to see them! Thanks, I love this story! :)
That was great Hopefully this isn't the end of this great story. Encore, this is just great
WOW GReat Story!!!!! I love it when stories get updated, or better yet added to!!!
Your entire series has been excellent. Why aren't you doing this for a living? More ASAP, please.
Brilliant, as usual. :-)
Wow. Just wow... I loved it! I actually wept with Trip's and T'Pol's actions after Koss released her from the marriage. I want so badly to see that in the television show.
I can't wait for the sequel!
Reading an addition to your series is always enjoyable, but I really loved this one. It made me cry and laugh. You've taken all of us on such a wonderful journey. I wish that it could have been like this on tv. I can't wait for the next installation. Thank you!
great, i loved it.
i can't wait for the sequel really i can't wait!
Wow, that was just fantastic!! Thank you! Please continue and write about the weddings! I'd love to see Trip's parents meet Lorian - can you slip that in too? :)
Reread from the beginning of the series. Even better than I remembered! Can't wait for more, we've also got the whole Soong thing besides the weddings. I agree with DAK, Trip's parents should so make an appearance. Update soon! :)
LOL, poor Mal...
I loved this, but I kept getting Bones flashbacks! "For God's sake, Jim... I mean *Soval*, I'm an engineer, not a psychic." "For God's sake, Jim... I mean *T'Pol*, I'm an engineer, not a philosopher."
I love it!! This whole series is quickly becoming one of my very favorites. And I can't wait for more!! You're a fabulous writer, HR!
This is not my first time reading this story arc, but this is my first time writing something about it. This is just a beautiful tale, spun with a grace and told with utter detail and emotion that few fanfictions have. It's truly a gem and I'd love to see it continue on. Perhaps a wedding or two? Just because I'm very very greedy.
omg, I read every story you wrote up to this point, in a day! I started at like noon and now its... well it's a hell of a lot later than that, I love your stuff, I eat it all up, it's a wonderful story and I wish that was how it played out on the series. Your stuff is amazing!
(Just realized something as I re-read this for, like, the tenth time - greatest story - there's a jump in lines back in chapter 4. Trip stops about mid-sentence during his talk with Soval near the end of the chapter, then the writing picks up with Soval in the next line. A bit weird. Anyway, awesome awesome awesome!)
Glitch in Chapter 4 fixed now. (Thanks, Bucky!)
And Windrider, can I tell you how it made me squee that you've read this so many times? *big goofy grin* Thanks.
Many highs, lows, and highs in this one. Very enjoyable.-jamis
Many highs, lows, and highs in this one. Very enjoyable.-jamis
mwah 2 ya i luved that story it was brilliant thnxs