Part One, Family Business
The worst part about the job, Trip had long ago decided, were the shore leaves. He'd never been a particularly superstitious man, but, since serving on Enterprise, he had been shot at, blown up, kidnapped, impregnated, seduced, injured, and otherwise generally harmed every time he'd set foot off the ship. So – quite naturally, in Trip's opinion – he decided he would avoid leaving the ship as much as possible. It wasn't the best solution, but, when comparing the anxiety he sometimes felt when left in behind while Jon, T'Pol, or the others were exploring some strange new culture to the anxiety he felt when that strange new culture invariably decided to shoot, bomb, kidnap, impregnate, seduce, injure, or otherwise harm him, Trip chose the former. If that meant he got to see fewer of those new cultures for himself... well, second contacts seemed to be a lot less dangerous than firsts.
The problem that he hadn't considered, though, was Jon ordering him to take a month's leave while Jupiter Station completed repairs to Enterprise, nevermind the fact that it'd take at least as long to go back over everything if he wasn't there to watch them. The boys at Jupiter Station were good engineers, but none had ever been out of the system and so couldn't know how some of their specs didn't quite work as expected when they got out there. Having bemoaned this fact to T'Pol several times over the days that had preceded Jon's order, she'd suggested, quite agitatedly, that, if the technical manuals were written incorrectly, he rewrite them. Needless to say, it'd never been an idea Trip had seriously considered before, but, thinking about all he would have to do to fix the repairs, it was seeming a better idea each day.
T'Pol. Now there was someone he could use a manual for. She had surprised him by coming to his quarters when they thought Jon was dead – hell, she always surprised him. For a member of such a logical and consistent race, she had the tendency to be anything but when it came to, well, whatever the hell they were. There had been times (mostly during the first few months of their mission, but occurring as recently as their meeting with Lorian, their son from an alternate timeline) when he'd thought that she'd like nothing more than to show him to the nearest airlock after one of their arguments, and others when she'd do the complete one-eighty and show up in his cabin all concerned and... Well, even as in love with her as he was, it was close to driving him crazy.
It wasn't even as if things had gotten any easier since she had shown up that night and told him that she would stick around for as long as he wanted, and, for about a day or two, he'd been absolutely sure that there was actually a god out there, because he'd been practically in heaven knowing that they'd saved Earth, restored the timeline, and that T'Pol (more or less) loved him...
And then reality hit.
Oh, it wasn't anything she'd said, but, after a day or so of being most un-Vulcan-ly worried about his well-being – and the most curious comment about how Nazi interrogation tactics seemed to be less severe than Klingon that he'd yet to get a straight answer from her about, - T'Pol had reverted to, well, something he couldn't quite understand. They still spent most their free-time together, and there'd been the added bonus of falling asleep next to her after a private movie night or two, but there'd been no repeat performances of the night they'd spent while hitching a lift from the Aquatics. At first he almost felt he'd been had again, only without the embarrassingly clinical put-down, but that had been before it'd hit him that she was Vulcan.
Not, of course, that he hadn't known that before. She was Vulcan – infuriatingly so – and, in addition to the pointed ears he loved so much and the ability to indicate at least twelve different levels of anger, exasperation, and resignation with the raising of a single eyebrow, T'Pol had not the slightest idea of how to act around someone she was supposed to be dating. (Not, of course, that she'd probably admit to even that much, but he considered the term... artistic liberty.) Vulcans, after all, did not date. They got engaged to people their parents picked out in grade school, went about their business for a couple of decades, got married, and then continued on with their business as if nothing had happened. Affection, if it existed at all, developed long after marriage, and love, well, it probably never came into the picture, least not for most. Considering Vulcans weren't supposed to act on their emotions, the fact that she'd said anything at all to him was probably as much as he could hope to get from her in a long, long while.
There were many things Trip thought he could do for love, but he was only human. He needed some sort of sign from the girl he was seeing – even if it was only a brief touch of his arm, like she'd sometimes done before they'd gotten together – was actually seeing him too before he started worrying that this was all in his head. Which brought him to a curious merging of his two problems:
He was going to convince T'Pol to her spend shore leave with him, and, if he couldn't, he was going to submit himself to Phlox for a full psychiatric work-up.
And so, with a steadying sigh, Trip reached up and pressed the buzzer outside her quarters.
"Come in," she called, not looking up as he entered.
Amused, "Well, it looks like you're taking enough clothes to last a year."
"You wanted something?"
"Told the Captain I wanted to stay aboard and supervise the refit – I know," he raised his hands at her questioning eyebrow, "I know, and you're right. I'll get to work on writing a manual that actually works as soon as I get off this leave. Jon agrees with you, on the getting off-ship part, at least, and suggested I take a break. Ordered it, more like. Problem is, though, I'm not sure where to go with Lizzie dead and my hometown not existing any more... There's always my parents, I suppose, but they were never too happy about me joining Starfleet in the first place and I just don't think I can take that fight again right now."
"I was under the impression you already had plans." At his own questioning look, "I believe you mentioned Tahiti and Cancun."
"That was before every news anchor and talk show host on the planet started calling us all heroes."
T'Pol was silent for a moment before, studiously not looking at him, suggesting, "You could come with me."
Bingo. He knew it couldn't all be in his head. With feigned surprise, "To Vulcan?"
"The transport leaves at 1100 if you wish to come. There are few beaches on Vulcan, but you would most likely find your stay there agreeable nonetheless."
"Where would I stay?"
"My mother's house is quite large. I am sure we could come to some accommodation."
Trip couldn't keep the smirk off his face any longer. "Your mom's house, huh? What she know about me? About us?"
"I've never mentioned you."
"I've never mentioned anyone from Enterprise in my letters," she countered, seeming to pick up on his disappointment. "My mother can be quite... absorbed... with her work, and, were it not for the fact she requires the knowledge to write to me, I would sincerely doubt she knows what ship I serve upon at all."
"We have a word for people like that on Earth: eccentrics."
"An apt enough term." T'Pol continued with her packing.
"What do you talk about then if you don't tell her about your shipmates?"
"My mother is a professor of xenobiology at the Vulcan Science Academy. My letters to her mostly contain information about the various species we encounter on our missions."
"Sounds like fun." She gave a partial shrug in response – a human gesture Trip was certain she'd no idea she'd acquired. He considered for a moment pointing this out to T'Pol before deciding to save that argument for more dire circumstances. "So you'd introduce me as...?"
Appearing confused, she answered, "Commander Charles Tucker the Third," in a manner that suggested this should be obvious.
Perhaps it was. He'd gotten her to agree to letting him met her mother after all; asking for much more than that would be pushing things. "1100, huh? I'd better start packing."
It was barely 1000 when T'Pol keyed open the gates to her mother's house, but it was already thirty-eight degrees Celsius. Between the still-rising temperature and Vulcan's stronger gravity, Trip had been feeling the need for a nice, long nap after their journey from the spaceport, but nearly all his exhaustion evaporated when he saw her mother's courtyard. It wasn't just that it was easily five degrees cooler than the desert outside or that it contained the first water he'd seen since the transport had landed; it was, quite simply, beautiful. When he'd imagined Vulcan in the past, he'd never thought there might be flowers, let alone artwork, and here were both, right out in the open for anybody to see them. "Volcanoes, ancient ruins, fire plains... Vulcan's not at all like I imagined."
"Well, it's kinda romantic."
"Romantic?" she repeated in that tone of hers she only used when seeking clarity on illogical human behaviour as she latched the gate behind them.
"No offence, but I kinda always assumed that Vulcan was a bit, well, boring."
Eyebrow rising, "Boring."
"I was half expecting all the buildings to be perfectly square, and the roads all perfectly spaced and meeting at right angles, and even the mountains and rivers and stuff to be laid out in perfectly logical patterns. But no, it turns out to be like something out of an old adventure novel, all... beautiful and dangerous-looking."
"Vulcans appreciate beauty."
Snorting, "Well, I'd no doubt about that. You always were a snazzy dresser."
"Commander Tucker," she protested, though Trip could see a faint green tinge rising in her cheeks, "I suggest-"
Trip dropped his bags on the paving stones, "Hey now, none of that. We're on vacation, remember. We're just Trip and T'Pol, none of that 'commander' business." Moving to stand in front of her, Trip placed one hand on her waist and used the other to tug on the strap of her own bag. He was surprised at its weight when he finally managed to slip it off her shoulder, but not nearly as surprised as when (after a quick glance towards the sky, as if checking the position of the suns) T'Pol wrapped both her arms around his neck once her hands were free. His voice had become quite heavy to his own ears by the time he finished with a, "Think you can handle that?"
"I shall endeavour to try... The Vulcan Science Academy is in session until late afternoon at this time of year," she added, apparently out of the blue. "My mother will not be home for several hours yet."
"Is that so?" Trip felt his breathing, already heavy from the increased gravity, and his heartbeat quicken as T'Pol allowed him to pull her closer. If he thought her new-found interest in renewing their physical intimacies out of place, he chalked it up to the fact that, for the first time in their relationship, they weren't on a ship with eighty-five other people. Or, perhaps, it had something to do with being back on the planet of her birth. Either way, Trip couldn't find himself caring much for the reasoning behind her actions at the moment, only that they were happening.
"Indeed." Her body pressed closely against his as she rose up to meet his lips for a brief kiss, then slid away as she stepped back and retrieved her bag. "It would be advisable to leave earlier in the day if you wish to see Mount Tar'hana or the fire plains, but there is time before my mother returns-" T'Pol suddenly stopped and he could sense more than see her straighten beside him as he turned to follow her gaze-
Trip went stalk-still himself as he caught sight of a Vulcan woman standing in the doorway of T'Pol's mother's house. Though she appeared to be in her mid-fifties, with Vulcan longevity was taken into account, she was probably much older – which, Trip thought with a sigh, meant that either T'Pol had an aunt that had come to visit or her-
"Mother, you're home." At another time he might've laughed at the emotion that had crept into T'Pol's voice – this a combination of shock and something bordering on horror – but, at the the moment, Trip found himself thinking rather loudly a string of expletives he'd learned from Hoshi when the ensign had gotten injured during one of Major Hayes' training sessions and hoping they were strong enough for the situation.
What T'Pol's mother made of this, Trip couldn't tell, as her mother's response – and T'Pol's answer to it – came in a burst of fast-spoken Vulcan that, even if he had spoken the language, Trip doubted he could've followed. Whatever was being said, though, it clearly was nothing T'Pol wanted to hear, for her spine seemed to stiffen with each passing word until, at last, in a spurt of English, she all but spat, "Former fiancé, Mother."
Still looking at her mother, she continued, "Trip," already walking off, "I'll show you to where you'll be staying."
Pausing only to give T'Pol's mother a half-smile and a, "Nice to meet you, ma'am," he gathered up his bags and followed quickly after. A couple of hallways and a flight of stairs later, T'Pol showed him into a comfortable, if impersonal, bedroom that, if the way she'd set her own bag down and sunk onto to bed was any indication, they'd be sharing.
After several minutes of silence, this seemed to require comment. "Well, that was unexpected."
Eyes still closed, she nonetheless offered an, "Indeed," filled with a not-insignificant amount of suppressed emotion.
A wiser man than he would've left T'Pol to her own devices while she attempted to control her emotions, but, having fallen in love with a Vulcan in the first place, Trip did not consider himself all that wise, and so persevered, "I take it your mother wasn't thrilled to see me."
"That might be understating the matter."
Trip whistled and joined her on the edge of the bed.
"However, I doubt it was your presence so much as the position she found us in that displeased her."
"You mean she saw-"
Groaning as he leaned back, "It's a curse, it has to be."
"Commander?" Then, at his half-hearted look, "Trip?"
"Every time I step foot on a new planet, something unpleasant has to happen, doesn't it?"
Over the next several days, it became clear that T'Pol's mother – who, after much effort, he found was called T'Les – was not displeased to see him: disappointed was a better word for it. Though the pair of them endeavoured not to argue, at least, not where he could hear them, Trip could tell there was something going on beyond the normal mother-daughter spats that seemed to be a constant in the universe.
On the third day of their visit, however, a Vulcan man appeared at the door, and Trip suddenly got a good idea about what was really going on. Not bothering to listen in on their conversation (and already deciding that he was going to have to start learning Vulcan when they returned to Enterprise), Trip waited in the room they shared for her to return, knowing that, if his initial guess was correct, she'd want to meditate when it was over.
The room, he'd learned, had been T'Pol's when she was a child, but, because she had not been to Vulcan in nearly a decade, it had acquired an itinerant feel that even several days worth of use had yet to shake. He'd been surprised when T'Pol had told him how long it had been since she'd been home, though more so that she'd willingly shared this information than at the reminder that she was as old as his parents, however young she might actually look. She'd been doing that more often, sharing facts about her life, though she'd not tried to kiss him again since the day of their arrival, despite the fact they shared a bedroom. (Though that, he half-thought, was more to piss off T'Les than because T'Pol was entirely comfortable with the idea, and, because of that, he was actually grateful she hadn't tried anything. Trip loved her, but, if they were going to sleep together, he wanted it to be because she wanted it, not because she was trying to prove a point to her mother.) For instance, he'd learned that she'd not always been a science officer in the High Command, though she'd yet to be clear on what exactly it was she'd done beforehand, only that it had kept her off world, enough so that she'd barely spent more than a year at a time on Vulcan since her twenties.
Trip had given up examining the few personal items in the room and begun (with little success, he felt) to work on a warp engine manual that might actually be worth the memory it was stored in by the time T'Pol returned. She started when she saw him, so deeply was she lost in her thoughts, but rather than pull up one of the meditation mats stored in the corner as he'd expected, she began to pace the room with a furious energy, as if the idea of sitting still was anathema to her at the moment.
Something had happened to her in the Expanse to make it difficult to control her emotions even now, weeks after they'd destroyed the spheres, that was clear. Something more than her breif exposure to trelium aboard the Seleya, not that he thought she'd ever tell him what, no matter how close they might get. Trip hated to see her so... frazzled... especially when she was usually so in control... Still, he couldn't help but notice that he was the only one she let see her when she was like this, and that was something at least, and a petty part of him enjoyed this more than he should.
T'Pol had paced the length of the room three, four times before she suddenly stopped at the far end of it, grasping tightly at the edge of the dresser that stood there. "I have spoken to Koss."
It took him a moment to place the name. "The guy you were supposed to marry? I thought you called that off ages ago."
"As did I." She released her grip on the dresser and turned around, taking a few steps forward, her hands wringing, before she seemed to realize what she was doing and schooled herself to stillness. Only the agitated set of her lips and brow – things Trip had seen all-too-often for his liking in recent days – gave away that she was fuming inside. "However, our parents are insistent that the betrothal still stands."
Trip could feel his skin paling at her words, his body growing cold despite Vulcan's impossible heat. He could take being shot at and blown up. He could even understand the kidnappings and unintentional impregnations, be flattered by the seductions, and take in stride the ridiculous proportion of away-mission injuries he seemed to incur. But this? He'd only just gotten her to admit that there was something between them; just barely managed to convince her that it was worth exploring. After all the arguments, after all the false starts and misunderstandings, this was the point when they were supposed to find a way to make it work – because it had to work. There was just too much between them for this, all this, to not work. He had no illusions that it would be easy, but knew that it would happen nonetheless.
This was it. This was final, clinching proof that there was no god because, if there was a god, he wouldn't have been asked to come sixteen light years and expected to watch the woman he loved marry a man she barely knew. It was as simple as that.
He didn't think his heart had beaten at all in the impossible amount of time these thoughts had taken to run through his head.
His voice sounded far away when he managed to ask the question that was nagging most at him, begging for answer though fearing – knowing – he wouldn't like it, whatever it might be. T'Pol was Vulcan after all. She may love him (or feel as close to the emotion as a Vulcan could) and she may want to be with him (though, again, he hardly thought she was entirely clear on this matter herself), but there were some things she couldn't change. Try as she might, she was as bound by the traditions of her race as he was to his, and no amount of wishing could change the fact that that they were from two different worlds, with such different expectations of relationships that it had taken him ages to sort out that, just because they weren't doing the things that a human couple in their situation might, didn't mean that they weren't a couple nevertheless. She would, ultimately, have to marry this Koss guy, because love didn't come into the equation with Vulcan marriages, only familial duty. It was the Vulcan way. But still he had to ask, "What are you going to do?"
His heart, which had been silent, now thrummed in his ears as he waited for the answer, so loudly that he was sure her response had been lost to the noise. But, no; one thousand, two thousand beats later (or was it but a hundred? he could no longer tell), she still hadn't said a word, and he found himself scrambling to find something, anything he could say to make her understand he understood the choice he knew she had to make. But there were no words, nothing but the icy-sharp pain in his heart-
And then she spoke, her voice sounding even weaker than his, "I don't know."
Home: Part Two, That Which Survives