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The Widow’s Tale, by Julie
The Widow’s Tale
Disclaimer: Star Trek Enterprise characters belong to paramount. I write
Paul Forrest sat quietly, lost in his thoughts and memories. Part of his brain was questioning this strange activity and wondering what the hell he thought he was doing, but there was comfort here. He was sitting in his father’s old chair, at the desk he had loved, in the study that held so many meaningful things. Somehow, in this room, he felt that maybe he could connect with his father just once more.
His family was in shock. The devastating news that their beloved husband, father and grandfather had been cruelly ripped away from them didn’t seem possible. At first they had been sure that there had been some mistake. Maxwell Forrest had been to Vulcan before. It was nothing new, but this time he was to meet with the High Command. He had been very excited, Paul remembered with a smile. He’d tried to hide it but it kept slipping out. His entire conversation for three days had been peppered with references to the trip. Paul was convinced that working with the Vulcan Ambassador for so long had rubbed off, and his father had become used to tempering his enthusiasm and excitement for projects, just in case it put the Vulcans off. But he was so very human; he couldn’t hide it for long.
His father had travelled to Vulcan with Ambassador Soval, his long term sparring partner over all things related to Star Fleet. Paul reflected on the strange relationship that his father seemed to have with the grumpy old Vulcan. When he spoke of him half of the time, he was furious about some cutting comment he’d made, or his dampening attitude to any progress in the warp 5 project. He was angry that the Vulcans appeared to want them to stay strictly within their own solar system, but there was no doubt that he respected the diplomat. It was his mother who had surprised Paul when he spoke disparagingly of the Ambassador in his younger years. “Your father would be extremely angry if he heard you say that,” she had said, her back straight and arms crossed as they always were when she was serious. “He’s very fond of Ambassador Soval.”
“You’re joking,” Paul had replied, laughing.
“No I’m not,” she’d said.
She was right of course. He’d died saving the Ambassador’s life. But that’s just what dad would do, Paul thought. The wave of sorrow swept over him again. He missed him so much. He looked up to the ceiling and thought of his mother. She was up there now, resting. So far, she hadn’t cried. She was a strong and capable woman, always had been. The archetypal Star Fleet widow, she’d shouldered the burden of home life, bringing up the children and being the perfect hostess when the Admiral needed her to be. Now she didn’t seem to be able to let go of being strong. Her remoteness worried him. It had been over two months now since his father’s death. He was concerned that his mother seemed unable to let out the emotions he knew must be pent up inside. She was so warm and loving by nature. This coldness was alien to her. What could he do? He’d tried talking to her. Nothing seemed to help.
Barbera Forrest lay on her bed staring at the ceiling as she had for days now stretching into weeks. Thinking was too hard. She had no energy, no motivation, no … anything. At the times when she did think it hurt too much to remember what she’d lost.
She had to be strong for the children. She had held herself together long enough to take care of all of the things that needed to be done at a time like this. There was a funeral to arrange, financial matters to be sorted out. After that she let go, retreating to somewhere inside where she could hide from the pain and overwhelming grief. Then there were the myriad callers who all came to offer their commiserations and tell her what a wonderful man and commanding officer Maxwell had been. From far off somewhere inside she had been gratified at the number of people who had taken the time to come and see them, and their kindness. She just couldn’t show it. Her detached self had wondered how they must have felt visiting a grieving widow and finding a cold statue instead. Poor Maxwell, he deserved better.
Her tears wouldn’t surface. She could feel the emotions bubbling in the pit of her stomach but they lay there like a stone. She couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat and couldn’t cry.
She closed her eyes. Somehow nothing seemed real. Maybe this was her brain’s way of coping with tragedy. She sighed. Under the circumstances remaining numb to the outside world might not be such a bad idea.
The Vulcan Ambassador stood motionless in front of the house for several moments. He had returned from Vulcan only days ago, the scars on his ear and cheek gave evidence of the tragic bombing of the Earth Embassy. The inner scarring from recent events, including the Andorian torture, was still raw. He pondered the wisdom of coming on this difficult pilgrimage now, but this was something that could not wait. At least he would be able to settle his feelings for good. He considered for a moment his own choice of the word ‘feelings’. It was only logical that he would deeply regret the death of Admiral Forrest. The fact that his death was unnecessary was regrettable and illogical. He was an admirable man in so many ways. His loss was a calamity for two worlds along with the tragedy for his loved ones. But there was more to it. Soval had become accustomed to analysing his own emotional responses in recent months. He had come to realise the profound effect that humans had on him - some humans more than others. This little world and its eccentric inhabitants had caused him to admit to some very unVulcan feelings.
Maxwell Forrest. Soval had known him for at least 30 years. He had worked with him directly for many of them. Sometimes … often, they had conflicting ideas and expectations, but they had worked through them, and he knew that Forrest was a fair man who possessed real integrity. It wasn’t until after the explosion that he had realised something else had quietly come into existence over the years. It wasn’t until after his death that he had to acknowledge the strong friendship that had grown, and he hadn’t expected the sense of loss that he now endured. His friend had died saving his life, and that fact had changed him profoundly. He had risked his life, his career and his world in the pursuit of the truth. He had turned from everything he had ever believed and held dear, to do what he felt to be the right thing, however illogical that course of action appeared. He could never go back.
The journey to Vulcan had been unremarkable. They had discussed many topics, and, despite Forrest’s best efforts to hide it, Soval had been aware of the man’s eagerness for the meeting with the High Command. Forrest’s deepest wish, he’d discovered, was for Humans and Vulcans to work together as equals: sharing information and conducting joint missions, including mixed crews. The idea would have seemed ridiculous to Soval until a few short years ago. T’Pol’s assignment to Enterprise had altered that, though. It had changed everything.
Soval would be the first to admit that he had, like most of his colleagues, considered humans just that little bit too reckless to be allowed to break out too soon. They needed guidance and sobering and sensible advice during their years of research. He remembered the warning words that he and his predecessor had offered about going too far, too fast. At the end of the first year of Enterprise’s voyage, the ambassador had been sure that they were right; several problem encounters had almost destroyed the ship and crew. The incident at P’Jem was still a sore point among Vulcans.
It had taken a long time for the Vulcans to admit that humans were handling themselves quite well, considering their inexperience in their first expeditions of exploration. He realised that he had closed his mind to the mere possibility that these people were ready to go. He also had to admit that he was worried about them. He had grown fond of this colourful and confusing species. He did not wish them to come to any harm or invite danger. And then the Xindi attack occurred.
That was a bad time for so many reasons. Millions dead, innocent people incinerated who were just unlucky enough to be in the wrong place. The backlash on all aliens on earth at the time was perhaps understandable, but it was unpleasant and unfair. Yet more innocents suffered. But worst of all was his government’s complete failure to give any assistance to their wounded ally. Despite all of his protestations to the contrary, they had approved a policy of non-interference, and he was powerless to do anything about it. The embassy had covertly given technical assistance to Star Fleet, but there was little they could do to give practical help. He still saw the accusing eyes of the Star Fleet admirals when he’d refused their request for Vulcan ships to assist Enterprise. They were on their own. He had never before felt shame for his people, but he had that day. It was only when T’Pol had resigned her commission and stayed on board that he had regained some pride, and he had been proud of T’Pol for having the courage to do what was right. Soval had to conceal his concern for her from all others, and his official line was that she was foolish in her choice. Forrest had known though, how he didn’t know. Every chance he could he’d tried to reassure Soval that T’Pol was well and in good hands, pretending of course that it was just a casual remark and that he hadn’t noticed Soval worrying about her.
That year seemed a very long time ago now. So much had happened in a short time. The triumphant return of Enterprise had been a relief. It hadn’t taken him long to realise that something had occurred between T’Pol and Commander Tucker. He was still unsure of how he really felt about it. He had said nothing, and as far as he knew T’Pol had no idea that he was aware of the situation. It wasn’t until the de-briefings with Captain Archer that Soval had really appreciated Forrest’s diplomatic and careful approach with Vulcans. He had a way of being strong, accepting well intentioned advice and appearing to give it careful consideration before rejecting it. Archer’s over emotional approach to everything provoked Vulcans to respond negatively. But finally his world had been rocked to the core, Vulcan had gone to the brink of civil war, and had been close to interstellar war. Now everything had changed.
He stood gazing at the house where his friend had lived his other life, one he knew little about. He was compelled to personally convey his commiserations to the family left behind. He squared his shoulders and approached the door resolutely.
Paul heard the door chime and reluctantly left his father’s chair. The stream of visitors had been moving for the family, the show of support had been touching, but wearing. He was surprised to see the Vulcan Ambassador standing outside through the window. He opened the door. The robed figure was imposing and seemed incongruous in the neat suburban street. It was very unusual to see him alone; he was usually flanked by his entourage of aides. Paul hesitated.
“May I enter?” the Ambassador asked, elevating one eyebrow questioningly.
Paul remembered himself. “Yes, of course. Please … Ambassador,” he stammered awkwardly. He ushered him into the lounge.
They stood silently for a moment. “I came to see your mother, and yourself, to extend my personal condolences for the death of your father. He was a fine officer” Soval’s voice softened, “and friend.”
Paul felt a prickling at the back of his eyes and had to bite his lip to stop the emotion flowing. He nodded silently. “I’ll get my mother,” he said and left Soval alone.
Soval looked about him. He had heard of the practice of humans in sending flowers at times like this. He also noticed the folded pieces of card standing around that conveyed messages of regret and support for the family. Humans needed to share their emotions. In the absence of telepathy, words and gestures had to suffice.
Paul returned. “She will be with you shortly,” he said. “May I offer you some tea?”
Soval nodded and the young man, so very like his father, left him once again.
The last thing Barbera wanted was another visitor. Lying on her bed in the dark she could deny the reality of her loss. She was floating in a void desensitised to everything around her. She had to pull herself out of her comfortable apathy, it was her duty. She dragged herself off of the bed. It took all of her energy to walk downstairs to greet her guest.
Paul had not told her it was Ambassador Soval waiting to see her. The irrational anger that flared up inside of her when she saw him took her by surprise. Not only was he a Vulcan, the cause of her husband’s death, but Max had been killed saving this Vulcan’s life. For a moment she wanted to kill him, or hurt him. The savage anger scared her. It was possibly the first real emotion she had felt for days. The effort of keeping her emotional reaction under control rendered her speechless, and her knees nearly buckled. The ambassador stepped forward to help her. She held up her hand to stop him as she lowered herself into the nearest chair.
“I apologise for disturbing you at this time,” the Vulcan ventured after a few moments of awkward silence. “As I told your son, I share your grief for the loss of your husband.” He lowered his eyes, emotion still felt too close to the surface and he was concerned that the depth of his feelings was too evident.
Barbera gazed at him. Her anger had dissipated now, and the numbness had taken her over again. She looked curiously at the diplomat standing in her lounge looking ill at ease and completely out of place. She had met him once or twice before, only briefly, and he had always appeared to be a very imposing man. His manner had been brusque and he had seemed stiff and unapproachable. She had been surprised that Max had spoken of him with such warmth. He’d seemed cold and remote to her then, the complete opposite of her warm hearted husband. It was odd to see him now in this new context, offering comfort and sharing sorrow. How could he possibly feel anything?
“Thank you,” she said automatically. The room was silent again. Barbera didn’t know what else to say to him. “I hope you are well, Ambassador,” she said conversationally. She saw the eyebrow lift; Maxwell had mentioned that this happened when Soval was surprised. Max had often told her about the little give away signs that the Vulcan didn’t even realise he gave. He had kept her entertained with these little stories and they always made her smile. Her lips curved upwards involuntarily and she realised that the Ambassador was regarding her questioningly.
Paul brought the tea tray in and set it down by his mother, glancing at her with concern. She squeezed his hand gently to show that she was okay. He nodded to the Vulcan and left the room.
“Do you take milk or sugar?” she asked.
“Thank you, no,”
She tried to pour the tea but her hands were shaking. “Allow me,” Soval moved forward and poured the tea for her.
Soval was finding the situation more difficult by the moment. Part of him had rebelled against coming here, afraid of the barrage of emotions he would face. Now he was sitting facing a perfectly calm human woman who showed no signs of tearful wailing. It seemed unnatural. She had enquired after his health as if he had just dropped by on a casual visit. It was unnerving.
The contrast between Barbera Forrest and her son was marked. Paul had been having difficulty containing his emotions; Forrest’s wife appeared to have none. He considered how strange it was that, considering how emotional humans were, at a time when strong emotions should be expected, they strove to contain them. It was quite illogical.
“Your husband was a fine man, Mrs Forrest. My colleagues at the embassy wished me to convey their condolences as well,” he said.
“That’s kind of you,” she said flatly.
“He died saving my life.” He looked at her, but she kept her face averted, looking down into her cup. There was no response. “The last words he said to me before …” he stopped. A strange choking sensation caused him to hesitate. He wondered how much damage Shran’s synaptic field had done. “He was excited about Vulcans and Humans working together in harmony, as equals.” There was still no reaction, so he continued. “I intend to make sure that it happens as a memorial to him.” He stopped again his voice failing him as emotion took hold. He sipped his tea to cover the moment.
There was silence again. “Does your wife live with you, here on Earth?” Barbera asked out the blue.
“My wife died five years ago,” he told her. Soval was finding the situation a little surreal. He appeared to be the one having trouble with his emotions. There seemed to have been a bizarre twist to this meeting.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” she said regretfully.
“Why would you?” he answered.
Soval kept his eyes lowered. Humans had no idea about the Vulcan bond and the agony of losing a mate, when a part of you was lost at the same time. A million memories flooded his mind in an instant, the memory of a shared life that he had missed so badly. Moments of pleasure, sorrow and humour all came back with a sharp painful clarity. The pain that he had kept damned up inside of him, so deep that he had almost forgotten it was there, was let loose. He winced as it overtook him, he had never allowed himself to feel it before but the synaptic field had weakened his emotional control and he was powerless to fight it back into its holding place. He was lonely, as the woman sitting across from him would be. He was flooded with guilt.
His eyes lit onto a card, and he read the message to Barbera offering understanding. This person knew what it was like to feel a loss like hers. He wondered if this peculiar human custom could help. He felt compelled to do the same. Perhaps he should share his pain, he could try.
Barbera watched the Vulcan with interest. Her question about his wife had come from nowhere. She had never heard her husband mention the ambassador’s wife, and she remembered hearing that Vulcan couples did not always reside together.
“It must be easier for you,” she said, “being Vulcan.” Part of her was horrified with herself for speaking her thoughts. “You don’t suffer with the emotions that humans have to deal with.”
He raised his eyes to Barbera’s for a moment and she gasped. She read pain in the dark depths. In that unguarded moment he had silently touched her frozen heart. At that moment she heard Max’s voice inside her head. “They like you to think that they are incapable of emotions, but they’re there. You get to know the signs,” then he’d laughed. “I’ve been around Vulcans way too much.” Suddenly his memory was crystal clear and pierced her heart like a knife. She struggled with it, trying to find the comfortable numbness. She succeeded, partially.
“Do you have children?” she asked, her curiosity aroused.
He shook his head. Sharing private information was not a Vulcan habit and he struggled to share the information with her, even though he suspected it may help. “We were not aware until the end that my wife’s illness had been the reason for our infertility. She had a rare blood disorder,” he finished abruptly.
Barbera felt a rush of compassion for him. She had Paul and Ellen, both so very like their father. They were there to comfort and love her, and because of them Max would live on. She had her adorable grandson, David, to cherish and protect and tell stories about his grandfather. Tears pricked at the back of her eyes as sorrow for someone other than herself took over. He had lost someone so completely that it seemed tragic. Was he lonely? Would a Vulcan suffer, or could they suppress all of these things? She held back the questions that seemed too intrusive to ask him.
“It must have been hard,” she murmured.
He inclined his head, he had dropped his eyes again and his expression unreadable. “It was,” he agreed. “It still is.”
His last words surprised her. He must be lonely, and still grieving. Her emotional control was wavering, a single tear managed to squeeze out from the corner of her eye. She brushed it away absently.
Soval seemed to have gained his sobriety again. He looked around at the card covered mantel. “You have much support,” he commented. “Admiral Forrest was a man who was greatly admired,” he said forthrightly. “He had many friends.” She watched his eyes travel across the messages and she wondered what happened after a Vulcan death.
“He counted you amongst them, Ambassador,” she said smiling, her eyes misty. “I hope you don’t mind me saying so.”
“I am honoured that he would have considered me a friend,” he said, a slight tremble in his voice. “I will always remember him as my friend. A wiser and finer man I have yet to meet.”
At that moment it became too much for her. “More tea, Ambassador?” she asked seizing the tea pot. Without waiting for an answer she rushed out to the kitchen to tend to the tears that had escaped. Barbera saw that her husband’s study door was ajar; Paul was back in his father’s chair. She was pleased to have the privacy for her few unrestrained sobs. Surprisingly it made her feel better. She filled the kettle and reflected while she waited for it to boil. The last person she would have expected to have given her any comfort at all was the Ambassador from Vulcan, any Vulcan. She didn’t know very many, but they would have been at the bottom of the list. This just goes to show, she thought, how wrong you can be! Max had always maintained that their reluctance to give humans the extra information they needed to complete the warp 5 project had more to do with concern for their safety than keeping them in their place. Sometimes he’d been angry with them, but he’d always argued for them in a discussion, and there had been many discussions on the true motives of their Vulcan advisors.
She carried the tea pot back to the lounge and found him sitting quietly where she had left him. His eyes were closed in meditation, and she had a chance to study his features in repose. She noted the strong and pleasant features, the faint green tint of his skin and, of course, the pointed ears that fascinated most humans she knew. Some of her friends admitted to going quite weak at the knees at the sight of one of these men. The satyr like appearance of the Vulcan male was extremely appealing to human females. She often wondered if the dark, almost demonic appearance stirred something primeval in the feminine psyche. Soval’s grey hair lessened the devil- like appearance, but he was still a strikingly good looking man. She flushed, horrified when she realised what she was thinking. She put the pot down heavily and Soval’s eyes opened immediately.
Barbera poured the tea noisily to cover her discomfort. She had the uncanny impression that he knew exactly what she was thinking. What was worse, she had the feeling that it amused him. They sat drinking tea quietly together in a companionable silence. It was only then that she realised that she had forgotten her misery for a short while. She had smiled and it felt wonderful. She wondered how long it would be until she could laugh again, but she had to take it one step at a time.
“You said that you would endeavour to make sure Max’s wishes for joint missions between Vulcans and Humans become a reality,” she said suddenly.
“I did,” he agreed.
“He’d like that,” she said with a wisp of a smile. The Ambassador inclined his head a ghost of a smile mirroring her own.
“I miss him so much,” she said almost in a whisper.
Soval nodded. “As do I,” he said with an earnestness that touched her deeply.
“I must leave now,” he said rising. He held his hand out towards her and she shook it hesitantly. “If there is anything I can do...”
“Thank you,” she said. “I’m grateful that you came to see me today. You’ve helped already.” The heat of his hand struck her. She had always expected Vulcans to feel colder than humans. Maybe because they were unemotional, people made that mistake. “Goodbye, Ambassador.”
“Goodby, Mrs Forrest,” said Soval turning to leave.
Barbera suddenly had a thought. “Perhaps you could come again,” she said. “My grandson has always been fascinated by Vulcans, he would love to meet you.”
“That would be agreeable,” he said thoughtfully. “He should learn about Vulcans from Vulcans. Humans do not understand us.”
Hearing the door close, Paul left the study looking for his mother. He found her holding a photo of his father close to her heart, with tears streaming down her face. He put his arms around her and held her close, united with her in grief.
Half a dozen of you have made comments
This was one of thea stories that was just crying to be written to explain the actions and emotions of characters that the series left hanging. Soval is such a rich character and Julie does him so well.
Oh my, so good. Sooo good. Soval's coming to grips, or at the very least admitting his feelings in the situation didn't lessen him as a Vulcan in any way. Too often fics have a tendency of doing that.
^_^ I was quite amused by how she found him attractive. I would love to see a fic where this was actually discussed, objectively, between a vulcan and a human.
T'Shana'al, sounds like a story that needs writing.
I think it be a very good story.
A wonderful story and showed more of Soval's complex character. Excellent job!