Part Two, That Which Survives
"You don't know? It's simple," he caught his voice rising and forced it down again, knowing yelling was only going to make things worse. If their past confrontations were anything to go by, there was a good chance she'd do the opposite of what he wanted just to be contrary if they got worked up enough over it. Seeing as how Trip most definitely did not want her marrying this Koss guy and there was no way in hell he was going to be able to stay rational thinking about it, things were not looking good. He clutched the padd he held as tightly as he could and tried to be logical about this, like T'Pol would want. It wasn't easy – most of his thoughts seemed to be concentrated on the number of things he'd like to do to her would-be fiancé if he ever saw him again – but he managed, "Do you want to marry the guy or not?"
"It is not that simple."
"Then make it that simple!" Unable to keep calm, Trip forced himself to look away. He had to keep his cool. He couldn't act like a jealous boyfriend: she barely knew how to deal with the boyfriend part (if she even saw him as that, though God knew it was as good a term as any to describe whatever they were to each other); forcing her to deal with him when he got like this on top of everything her mom was putting her through would be unfair. He had to let her deal with this her way. No matter how much it tore him up inside.
"My wants are irrelevant." He studiously continued to look at the wall to his left, rather than at her. There was some sort of Vulcan artwork there, a lozenge-shaped plaque with what looked like a couple of the squiggly bronze pieces her people wore on their their robes pinned to it. Perhaps if he stared at it long enough, the feeling of betrayal would go away. Perhaps the shock would wear off and he'd be able to breathe again. Perhaps, if he tried hard enough, it would all turn out to be a dream. "No matter how distasteful I may find the union, there is little I can do to prevent it."
Clutching onto her use of the word "distasteful," Trip risked a glance in her direction and found her hands had begun their agitated dance once again. Could it be-? Did it mean-? He tried not to read anything into it – told himself that she had major commitment issues and probably would've baulked at the idea of any marriage – but he found himself able to breathe again. "Can't you just refuse to go through with it?"
"Were it that I could," her hands stilled, but T'Pol still seemed unable to completely suppress her emotions, her angry pacing restarting after no more than a moment of composure, "but there is, as I said, little I can do. This marriage was arranged by our parents when we were both young and witnessed by a priest. The only way it can be called off is if Koss were to choose another mate, and, in speaking with him, I believe that, even if such were his desire, his father would not allow such a thing to come to pass."
"And just why is Koss's dad so keen to see you two hitched anyway? I kinda got the impression that you weren't exactly the High Command's favourite Vulcan at the moment, what with going into the Expanse with us instead of coming back here last year. 'Cause, unless things have changed since we left, I can't exactly see how having his son marry Starfleet's first Vulcan officer helps Koss's father any."
"Koss's father is a man of great influence; even if my race were to find my posting honourable, it would do very little, politically, for their family. In all likelihood, this union would diminish his political standing and they would endeavour to keep me out of the public eye after the wedding until the scandal surrounding the destruction of the P'Jem Monastery and the resignation of my commission have died down."
Snorting, but still keeping his eyes firmly planted on the wall hanging, "Sounds awfully illogical to me."
"They desire this wedding take place for the sole reason that to do anything other would go against the old traditions, which would harm their family more." She gave what might've been a sigh, and the feeling in the room changed, the last of her anger quickly melting away into sad resignation. He still didn't turn (though, by god, it was growing harder with each passing moment), but could almost feel her weariness as she sank, slowly, onto the edge of the bed (the soft rustle of sheets giving this away; he hadn't looked, he swore he didn't, because he knew that looking would break whatever resolve he still had to let her do what she must, and, if that happened, well, it would be the end of all things). He imagined that, as she sat there, she was wrapping her arms around herself as she sometimes did when trying to make sense of emotions she neither understood nor desired. Had she been human, he would have gone to her and held her and told her they'd figure something out – but, then again, if she'd been human, this wouldn't be happening to them in the first place. "It is doubtful we could leave the planet before they discovered our intention. Which leaves-"
"Wait a second," his padd was crashing to the floor before he realized he was standing, "You'd be willing to do that?"
"I wouldn't have suggested it if I wasn't."
She was sitting there, exactly as he'd imagined, more composed now but still shaken. Part of him wondered if all Vulcans were like this, with thin veneers of logic over hotbeds of emotion, but he somehow doubted it. He'd met enough Vulcans to know most were so repressed they wouldn't know a real feeling if given a map and neon-lit instructions. But some... Some made him real glad Vulcans had learned to suppress their emotions. And others, like T'Pol, made him wish they hadn't, so that she'd've been able to deal with everything the universe seemed intent on throwing her way.
She hadn't had to stay. She could've left Enterprise after a week and never had to deal with these pesky human feelings again. She could've gone off and married Koss when she was supposed to and not ever felt this pain. She could've left any of a dozen times, but she'd chosen to stay with them and was willing to leave behind everything again to do so. He wondered what it was about his species that fascinated her so – Trip wasn't naïve enough to believe she's stayed all this time for him, especially not when, in the early days of the mission when the Vulcans seemed to be ordering her off Enterprise every other week, they'd been at each other's throats so often he was still surprised she'd never shown him to an airlock after he'd countermanded one of her orders – that she was willing to abandon the traditions that were so important to her for them. For him. That said more about whatever she made of their relationship than she ever would.
He sat down next to her on the bed, exactly as he would have if she were human, though he made sure to sit apart enough that the Vulcan wouldn't feel crowded. She surprised him again, as she seemed intent on doing, by leaning her head against his shoulder. Trip brought an arm around her, to gather her closer, and she didn't complain, just kept her eyes closed and concentrated on her breathing, rather like she was meditating, though her breaths were far too erratic and shuddering for that. "You were saying something about a way that didn't involve hopping the next transport?"
"There is another option."
"I am reluctant to even mention it... There is a tradition which has its roots in the time before Surak, before logic allowed us control over the base emotions that would have destroyed us. We were a violent race, once; the destruction caused by your Third World War pales in comparison to the Naehm T'Dashsaya – the last the great wars, from which it took us nearly fifteen hundred years to rebuild... It is called the kal-if-fee, and is one of the few things that kept Vulcan males in the throws of plak-tau from seizing what they would have..."
"That's all well and good, T'Pol, but what is this, um, kal-e-?"
"Right. So what is it?"
"And this challenge can get you out of marrying Koss?"
"If it is successful."
Becoming quite exasperated with her evasion, "So what's the problem? I'm not trying to tell you how you should live your life, T'Pol, but you obviously don't want to marry the guy. No matter how old this kal-e- er, challenge thing is, it's gotta be worth a shot. I mean, what d'you have to loose?"
"I'm proud of you, daughter."
T'Pol resisted the urge to scream. Though she had gotten better at controlling the wellspring of emotions she had unleashed with her trelium abuse, all of that hard-won control had, to borrow a human phrase, gone out the window when T'Cara, the daughter of her mother's cousin, arrived to help her prepare for the ceremony. She'd been dreading this day her whole life.
It was nothing against Koss, though recent developments had, obviously, made his companionship the less desirable alternative. His family was quite influential and could provide for her quite better than she or her mother could ever do on their respective salaries; in all respects, the match was quite fortuitous on her part, having been made before it had become clear that Koss's father would rise as far as he had in his ministry, made in large part even then because of the close acquaintance of their respective fathers. Koss had even – or T'Les had told her – secured a quite prestigious contract for something or other in Dahhanakahr and was becoming quite renowned in his profession outside of his father's influence. All things considered, he was a logical and agreeable mate.
No, it wasn't Koss that made the marriage disagreeable, it was the institution itself. While her parents' interests had always been focused on Vulcan, T'Pol had always been entranced by the stars, to the point where her itinerant nature had been commented upon by more than one commander. For nearly two decades, her home had been the small spacecraft she utilized in her work in prisoner retrieval for the Ministry of Security; in the seventeen years since transferring to the High Command, she'd served on no less than five vessels, not including Enterprise. She had often considered telling Captain Archer when he grew irritated at her cautious nature how several of her colleagues on Vulcan considered her desire for exploration quite reckless by her species' terms. Being required to return to Vulcan every seven years, as her mate's needs would demand, was highly disagreeable to her, and the idea of staying beyond that to raise the children she would, eventually, be expected to bear was even more stifling. Perhaps if her intended mate had shared her desire for something more than the ordinary, to borrow another human phrase, cookie-cutter life of adult Vulcans... But she had always known that the chances of finding any such alternative mate were so low it was illogical to even search, and so she hadn't.
Yet she'd still found Commander Tucker, with his illogical nickname and singular ability to attract trouble. She should have known from the start that he'd be nothing but trouble, the way he invaded her space like none of the other humans dared try; the way he sought out arguments even when their reason for debate was petty at best; the way he tried, persistently, to convince her that they could have a relationship even after she had told him that it was nothing but an experiment...
"What is there to be proud of Mother?"
T'Les reached up adjusted the fall of her wedding clothes, and, though she'd had physical contact with humans on a near daily basis since her posting aboard Enterprise, her mother's touch seemed more awkward and unwanted than any of the accidental brushes that sometimes happened with new crewmen, who stepped back as if they were burned when they realized what had happened... "I believe this is the first time since you were a child that you've behaved logically about this union."
Schooling herself to calmness, "There is little logic in fighting what cannot be prevented."
"Yet you sought to evade this marriage for the better part of three years and have debated its validity quite strenuously since returning home. May I ask what it was that precipitated this change of heart?"
"I believe I explained my reasons quite satisfactorily to you yesterday, when I told you I would go through with the koon-ut-kal-if-fee."
"You merely stated that you no longer saw the logic in fighting the wedding."
"As I said, I explained my reasoning."
"Such may pass for logic with the humans you serve with, but will not fool me, child." T'Les stood beside her now, her control so enviable that T'Cara, who was waiting by the door, did not appear to notice that her clanswomen were having a disagreement. Such was the way with Vulcan arguments and, in a way she had distinctly never thought before joining Enterprise, T'Pol wondered what her mother would say if she ever came across her and Trip in one of their famous rows. Quickly, however, she put that thought out of mind; she'd need all her control to make it through the ceremony. "It is because of this Commander Tucker, isn't it? Tell me, was it you or he who finally realized that a human and a Vulcan could not have a future together? That your children would be shamed beyond recounting – assuming the two of you could ever have children?"
"I fail to see how the matter concerns you. I have agreed to this wedding for your sake; you will be reinstated at the Academy when it is through. How I arrived at my decision is irrelevant."
"I fail to see how it is irrelevant when you and he have been sharing a bed ever since you arrived."
"My sleeping habits are none of your concern."
"You've changed. Your emotions were always close to the surface, but you've always been able to suppress them. Now it appears you no longer even try. You were always an impetuous child. My only hope that you will outgrow these... disagreeable... tendencies before you must reside with Koss-"
T'Pol had never before so glad to hear the ceremonial gong.
"Where is your human colleague? It is nearly time."
If her mother had been looking, she would have seen a brief flash of relief cross her face. T'Les wasn't, however, and so saw nothing other than the forced stoicism she expected as she stepped forward in readiness for the second striking of the gong. "He will not be attending the ceremony."
"An agreeable solution. I had feared he would do something untowards."
The gong rang out a second time, and, not dignifying her mother's words with a response, T'Pol headed into the courtyard, still trying not to scream.
She knelt in front of Koss, heart beating as it never had, forced to count her breaths to keep them coming in the calm and steady manner she had learned as a child.
The priest was elderly, a man of no little standing in the community. His presence was surely the doing of Koss's father, who, in his rush to see the marriage finally completed, could not leave his duties at the ministry to view it. "What ye are about to witness," he began without further ceremony, "comes down from the time of the beginning without change. This is the Vulcan heart. This is the Vulcan soul. This is our way." He spoke the next words, "Kah-if-farr," quickly after, and was halfway through the next phrase before she'd a chance to give her response, "Kal-if-fee" - quickly enough that she could not, at first, be sure she said the words, and a wave of panic washed over her stomach and flooded her chest before she noticed the silence that had fallen. The fear resided, but only enough that she could still pretend to be calm. It was lucky that she had become quite practised in doing such, otherwise she might not ever have managed it.
Her fiancé and the priest (and everyone else for that matter) looked at her askance. It was her right, but it was a little exercised one in modern days. Koss stood and, calmly looking around for the one who would be her challenger, asked, "Is this what you really want? A fight to the death? Surely whatever affection you have for your human friend will tell you that-"
"Commander Tucker will not be my challenger."
Sounding like a man who has just woken, the priest, apparently unused to this response, searched for the ceremonial words. "It is her right. T'Pol, thee has chosen the kal-if-fee. Who would thee have as your champion?"
"I will fight the challenge myself."
"Is that even legal?" asked one of Koss's younger male cousins, many of his kinsmen's expressions showing similar surprise.
"It is highly unusual, but she may choose her own defender, even herself, if it is what she wishes."
"As it was in the dawn of our days, as it is today, as it will be for all tomorrows, I make my choice. I will defend myself. It is the only logical course of action." She began to remove her outer robe.
"I fail to see the logic, T'Pol. If you are victor, I will be dead and you will have no mate. If I am victor, you will be dead and I will have no mate. Neither outcome will lead to a wedding."
"I have no intention of marriage this day. I also have little desire for your death, but, of all possible outcomes, it is the preferred."
"Your loss," he reminded her, "would result in your death."
"I received my training at the Ministry of Security. You are an architect. Such an outcome is unlikely, but still preferable this union." It had been many years since she had utilized much of that training, but her death was still a possibility. She had not mentioned this part to Trip when explaining the challenge to him and hoped that he had remained inside, as she had asked, so that, if this were to happen, he would not be injured trying to prevent it. But her back was to the house now and Trip's history of following instruction where she was concerned was shaky at best. She could only hope that it the challenge will not come to a point where it was necessary for her find out.
Koss had still yet to remove his outer robe. For some reason, this caused the fear to rise again, and she could feel her control starting to fracture. "You would risk your own death to prevent our union?"
No longer trusting herself to speak, she only nodded.
"Then I release you, T'Pol."
If he said any more – if her mother or any of the guests said anything more, - she did not hear them, all sounds seeming to disappear as she turned away, pausing only to acknowledge his release with another nod as she moved, her vision tunnelling, back towards her mother's house. Those around her appeared to move too quickly as to be natural, or perhaps it was only her own movements that felt preternaturally slow, but at great length she found her way inside and, impossibly longer, to her childhood room, where Trip was waiting.
He was positively shaking with nervous energy, both feet taping against the floor as he sat at the desk, stabbing viciously at the padd before him. He nearly fell out of his chair at her approach, his eyes darting, searching for blood or other signs of injury as he stood. "Well? Did it work?"
Swallowing compulsively, she found she could once more only nod as a different emotion – relief – coursed through her. "It's over. I am free."Borderland