"Commander Tucker Falls in Love" – Part 2 (Conclusion)
Rating: PG-13 (for language and sexual themes)
Author's Note: This was the first Enterprise story I posted (on ff.net only), but I wrote it before I owned the DVDs and I got stuff wrong. I wanted to fix those errors, and trim a little clumsiness, and then once I got into it a few new scenes demanded to be written. Think of this as a collection of missing scenes after Harbinger, e2, and Zero Hour, and during Home. Oh yeah: There’s also a moon garden in here that I suspect my subconscious ripped off from somebody.
Are We There Yet?
“So how long is this trip gonna take, again?” he asked, already bored. The transport ship Destiny was, in Trip’s opinion, poorly lit and in dire need of numerous upgrades. And why the hell had they painted the interior such a dismal brown?
The human captain had greeted them with something less than enthusiasm, although he clearly knew who they were, and reacted coolly to Trip’s offer of engineering assistance. Their images from the ceremony at Star Fleet had been all over the news – but so had a growing movement in opposition to space exploration in general and alien contact in particular. A transport ship captain seemed a poor candidate for such opinions, so Trip couldn’t explain the hostility. Maybe he just disliked eager know-it-alls from Starfleet.
“3.8 days,” T’Pol said. She was reading something at one of the tables in the passenger lounge. He supposed he should be glad she had come out to the lounge, instead of holing up in her tiny quarters like most of the passengers. There were only about a couple dozen on board, as far as he could tell, and they were all either Vulcans or humans used to Vulcans. Based on his efforts to introduce himself over lunch, they were a taciturn bunch.
She looked up from her reading as he paced back and forth. “There is a gym on board if you are in need of exercise.”
He grimaced and sat down at the table across from her. “Teach me something I should know about Vulcan before I get there.”
She raised her eyebrows, then put the PADD down. “There is a traditional greeting given when you first encounter or take leave of someone. You hold up your hand up, thus” – she demonstrated – “and say, Live long and prosper.” The proper response is to return the gesture and say Peace and long life. The words are somewhat optional; the hand gesture will suffice.”
Trip held up his hand and gave it a try. It wasn’t particularly difficult. “That’s all?”
“That’s all,” T’Pol said. “Do not attempt to shake hands or deliver any other physical embraces. But I believe you already know that.”
“Yep,” Trip said. “Maybe I should learn how to say it in Vulcan.”
She gave him a weighing glance. “I would not recommend it. Vulcan is difficult for most humans to pronounce, and there are many words with similar meanings. My mother speaks fluent Standard. And you have your universal translator if needed.”
“I’d still like to pick up a few words. Looks like I’ve got plenty of time to work on it.”
“Are you aware that this transport offers an extensive database of popular entertainments? Perhaps you could research future movie night options.”
That perked him up. “Do you want to watch some movies with me?”
“No. I wish to read some of the scientific articles I missed while we were in the Expanse.”
He bowed his head. Why had he thought this invitation signaled any real change in their relationship? “Guess I’ll go find that gym,” he said, and got up.
He stopped short. It still gave him a little glow of pleasure him when she called him that. “Yeah?”
“Perhaps you could choose a movie for us to share after dinner.”
His heart swelled. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
x x x
The first challenge was an engineering one: how to set up his cramped quarters to show a movie to two people in a way that would be potentially cozy without being too obvious.
The bunk beds in his quarters had view screens that dropped down at a comfortable viewing angle for somebody lying down. Obviously, they could each just lie on a bunk and watch the same movie on their separate screens. But he’d be damned if he was going to settle for that.
So he spent a half an hour swapping out the screen on the top bunk and installing it across from the bed on the wall, jury-rigging a connection to the desktop data port that was going to irritate the hell out of the captain of this ship if Trip didn’t put everything back perfectly before it was discovered.
Next he needed to scrounge some pillows to create a sofa-like configuration in his bottom bunk, so he and T’Pol could sit in there and watch the movie without it being completely obvious that he had wrangled them both into the same bed. He did this by telling T’Pol he needed something in her quarters, then making off with the pillows on her top bunk. It still wasn’t enough, so he sweet-talked the steward into a couple more by claiming he’d suffered a serious head and back injury in the Expanse. Technically, this was even true.
Next he needed to find a supply of popcorn; this was easy since the galley stocked bags that could be microwaved. Gallantly, he chose the version without butter.
Then he just needed to pick the movie. Damn. Which one? He knew better than to pick another horror flick. He wanted something romantic that wasn’t too obvious. Casablanca was out – it always made him cry. A comedy was asking for trouble because the chances were high that T’Pol wouldn’t get it. Wuthering Heights? Nah, Heathcliff was a jackass. Gone with the Wind? Too many references to embarrassing episodes from Earth’s history.
Notorious? That one had possibilities. Smoldering passion? Check. Brave sacrifices for a greater cause? Check. The guy finally gets the girl? Check. On the other hand, the girl was a mess. T’Pol might not sympathize with her. She’d probably identify with cool-headed, stick-to-the-job Cary Grant.
Oh great. He was Ingrid Bergman and she was Cary Grant. It just figured.
But it was nearly time to eat and he couldn’t think of a better choice. Notorious it would have to be.
x x x
She stopped just inside his quarters and turned to him. “It appears that you have gone to a great deal of trouble to ensure we watch this movie together in the same bed.”
Trip gritted his teeth. She’d already expressed surprise that he hadn’t used the passenger lounge to create a movie night for anybody who was interested, claiming that it was her understanding that movies were considered a communal event. “This is how I made it communal for us,” he said. “You don’t need to worry, I’ll be a perfect gentleman.”
“You have used that phrase on numerous occasions,” she said, “But I am still not entirely clear as to its meaning.”
“A perfect gentleman never does anything to a lady that he is not absolutely positive she will welcome. Have I ever made unwelcome advances to you?”
She appeared to consider this. “Does repeatedly importuning someone to participate in a viewing of a horror movie count as ‘an unwelcome advance’?”
“No. An ‘unwelcome advance’ is understood to be an unwelcome sexual advance.”
“Then no, you never have.”
And this was certainly true. Trip was still uncertain enough of her signals to leave it entirely up to her to let him know when she wanted intimacy. Luckily she hadn’t been shy – not that they’d had much time to indulge between alien Nazi time travelers and official Starfleet functions. “Well then,” he said, “Why don’t we sit down on the bed and watch the movie?”
“Very well.” She removed her shoes and sat down on one end of the bed.
He sat closer to the middle. “Popcorn?” He held out the bowl.
“Is it logical to eat popcorn where you plan to sleep?”
“It is if you’re watching a movie there,” Trip said. He was beginning to wonder why he’d gotten so excited about this.
She grabbed a handful of popcorn and settled back.
Trip smiled – things were looking up – and started the movie.
x x x
After promising to be a perfect gentleman he’d certainly had to be one. At least it meant he could enjoy the movie without brooding over whether he should make a move.
“So what’d you think?” he asked, turning off the screen as the credits rolled.
“It was quite involving,” T’Pol said. “The resolution was ... satisfying. But do you think two people with such a difficult history can be happy together?”
“You know, I never thought about that. I don’t know. But I definitely get the feeling they’ll be miserable if they aren’t together.”
Her brow furrowed as she considered this. “You have mentioned relationships you have had before. I recall a Lisa in particular. And yet, after they ended, you did not strike me as ‘miserable’.”
Trip grimaced. How to explain the difference between movies and real life? “I suppose most emotionally stable people move on if they have to. They get over it. If I’d had to see Lisa everyday, I might have been really unhappy for awhile, but she was far away. And there’s a big difference between a short, not very intense relationship, and one that’s deeper and results in, you know, marriage or something. When my grandma died, Granddaddy Charles died just a few weeks later – and he’d been in perfect health before. We all figured he just didn’t want to go on without her.”
T’Pol looked troubled. “A relationship between a human and a Vulcan seems likely to be problematic at best.”
Their eyes locked. Trip couldn’t help thinking this was the conversation we should have had before they’d had sex. Now it seemed somehow irrelevant – to him, at least. “Guess I’m willing to chance it if you are,” he said lightly.
“Why?” she asked.
“I don’t exactly know,” Trip said. “It’s like this connection is just there, whether I want it or not. Like it’s always been there.” That didn’t sound very romantic. Sort of like somehow he’d gotten himself yoked to her and now there was no escape. “But it’s more than that. You just . . . you make me happy.”
Her eyes were wide. “You do not always seem happy when you are with me. I have noticed that there tends to be a great deal of . . . arguing.”
“Yeah, I know, but I even enjoy that, most of the time. Don’t you?”
“In recent conversations you appear to have been trying to discover why I might wish to be with you. I am merely attempting to perform the same exercise.”
“Yeah, well, I never really got a great answer from you either.”
T’Pol frowned. “I hope it is not a bad omen when two people who want to be together aren’t sure why.”
He grinned. She’d admitted she wanted to be with him! “Maybe it’s that old saying: opposites attract.” He lifted his hand to her lips and kissed it, watching her face for any sign that he should cease and desist.
“Perhaps we should test that hypothesis,” she said. She leaned forward to kiss him, and after that they undertook a long and not very scientific study of the matter.
She’s Decided to Marry ?Koss?
He found a quiet, shaded crevice near the entrance to the Fire Plains and leaned against the rock face, reeling.
How could she do this to him?
How could she do this to herself?
Because she’s Vulcan, idiot. She’s Vulcan, she’s Vulcan, she’s Vulcan. You knew this was stupid from the beginning, but you let yourself fall for her anyway, and now . . .
Oh God, he wanted to throw up. This couldn’t be happening. She took him all the way home to meet her mother and now this? He laid his cheek against the roughened rock face and tried to grasp his new, crazily tilted reality. The thinner atmosphere wasn’t helping; he felt like a fish out of water, gasping for oxygen it simply couldn’t take in.
What the hell was he supposed to do now? Hail a transport and head for the spaceport? Get himself to the consulate? Was it possible there might be a Starfleet vessel in orbit?
T’Pol and her mother could hardly blame him for bailing. No one could blame him.
But he should have told her. He should have said, right there, that she was everything to him. That he couldn’t bear to lose her. That she should marry him, not this joker Koss. What if he told her that now? Would she run away with him?
But she knew how he felt. She must know – even if he himself was shocked by the depth of desolation he was feeling.
He felt a small, familiar hand on his shoulder, but didn’t turn around.
“Trip, if I could see any way out of this that wouldn’t cause greater harm, I would take it.”
“There has to be some way.”
“I’ve carefully considered every possible option. I can’t find a way out. I’m sorry.”
He turned around. “You’re giving up too easily! Are you telling me we can defeat an entire race of trans-dimensional sphere builders but there’s no way you can say no to one measly Vulcan?”
“It’s not just one ‘measly’ Vulcan. It’s thousands of years of Vulcan tradition. And it’s my mother.” T’Pol shook her head. “I wish . . .”
“What?” he snapped.
“I wish I’d never come home. I had no idea Koss and his parents would be so persistent.”
She looked so miserable that his heart melted. He took her hand and she let him. They were in a relatively secluded nook; perhaps no one would notice the inappropriate contact. “Think we could get Daniels to take us back in time a week or so?”
“Do you know how to contact him?” Her tone was dry; he recognized a dark T’Pol joke when he heard one.
“He’d probably just say this doesn’t matter enough in the vast scheme of things.”
To his surprise, she leaned right into him. “It matters to me,” she said into his chest.
He caressed her back. “Oh, T’Pol,” he whispered. “What are we going to do?”
For a long moment she just nestled against him. Then she said, “I will do what I must. But I understand if you don’t wish to see me again. I don’t have to return to Enterprise.”
His throat nearly closed up; he held her tighter. “Don’t be ridiculous.” He lifted her chin up so that he could meet her eyes. “Whatever happens, I will always be your friend.”
She blinked, then ducked her head back down into his chest.
A older Vulcan couple walked by and glanced at them, then did a shocked double-take. T’Pol, still clinging to him, didn’t notice. Trip gave them a ferocious stare and they hurried away. “Honey, I think we’re scandalizing the locals,” he said.
“I don’t care.”
“You don’t?” He perked up. “Could a good scandal get you out of this?”
She stepped back and looked up at him. “I would have thought so. But I have disclosed things to Koss’s family that should have dissuaded them from wanting anything to do with me. I even told them about my relationship with you. And still they insist on this joining.” She shook her head. “I do not understand their logic. Koss’s father seems to feel it is of utmost importance to get my mother’s position reinstated. He also appears to believe that only this formal family tie will allow him to accomplish that.”
Trip frowned. Was it possible Koss’s father was sweet on T’Pol’s mother? “I would think your mom would want you to be happy.”
T’Pol’s face darkened. “My mother believes that the only possible path to contentment lies in marriage to a Vulcan with full-blooded Vulcan children as the result.”
Trip thought of Lorian and felt a pang. Then he thought of what Lorian had said about Trip’s early death in that alternate timeline. That T’Pol had been a widow far longer than she had ever been married – and she would have been even if her husband had lived a normal human lifespan. “Maybe she’s right,” he said roughly.
T’Pol turned surprised, possibly even hurt, eyes on him.
“It doesn’t matter now anyway, does it? You’re going to marry him, and I’m going to just have to … deal with it.” He gave her a sad smile. “And I guess we’ll be okay, one way or another. I hope . . .” He choked up. “I hope you know I’ll always want only the best for you.”
T’Pol burrowed into him again and they held on to each other tightly. Trip tried to get a grip on himself. He really didn’t want to have an emotional meltdown in a Vulcan tourist park. “When’s the wedding?” he asked.
“In two days.”
His stomach dropped. Vulcans sure didn’t waste any time. “Guess it doesn’t take a whole lot of planning, then.”
“It will be a small ceremony in our own courtyard.”
He bit his lip, uncertain he really wanted to offer. “Do you . . . do you want me there?”
She looked up and searched his face. “Of course. But please do not feel obligated.” She looked down. “I’m not sure I would be capable of doing the same if our positions were reversed.”
“I’m sure you would if you thought it was the right thing to do,” he said, holding her tighter than ever. “I guess I’ll stick around, then.”
“Saying thank you is an earth custom,” he said softly.
She looked up at him with the serious brown eyes he adored.
And he needed to stop thinking that way. He took a deep breath and loosened his grip on her. “I guess we’d better get you back home.”
Trip spent the next morning making new travel arrangements. Once the wedding was over, he could hardly stay at T’Les’s any longer, even if she did keep coming up with more appliances for him to fix. As it was, he’d offered to take a room somewhere to get out of their way, but T’Les had insisted there was no logic in that.
She was being downright solicitous now that she knew he wasn’t going to ruin her daughter’s life.
He wished he hadn’t offered to stay. Vulcan was suddenly a hundred times hotter and drier than it had been just the day before. He remembered that he was no fan of deserts to begin with, and the sights he’d listed with such enthusiasm at the beginning of the trip no longer interested him. T’Pol was meditating a great deal, and an awkward stiffness had arisen between them even when she wasn’t. He’d also lost all his patience for bland Vulcan cuisine.
He yearned for home so badly he could taste it, never mind that it was some new place he’d never seen in Mississippi. At least he’d be on his own planet with his own people. He wanted his mom to mother him; he wanted comfort food; he wanted to listen to depressing country music and drink too much beer.
x x x
The night before the wedding, T’Pol took him to a public moon garden in the center of the city. She explained that because Vulcan’s moons reflected so much light and the days were too hot for many insects, many of the planet’s flowering plants had evolved to release their scent at night. It was pretty, in a ghostly kind of way. Large glowing white flowers nodded eerily at them in the bright moonlight as the gravel crunched under their feet.
T’Pol sat down at a bench on the far end of the garden, next to a trickling urn and a solar lamp that provided only slightly more light than the moons did, and looked up at him. “You’re quiet,” she said.
He sat down next to her. He was surprised that Vulcans, with their sensitive noses, could stand the cloying sweetness of all these flowers. “I guess I don’t have anything to say. I think we pretty much covered all the important points already.”
She bowed her head, and he got the feeling that he was letting her down somehow. He squeezed her hand briefly, then released it. “So explain the logic behind this garden, T’Pol. The paths meander inefficiently, it’s using up valuable water resources, and it blooms when most people are asleep.”
“Vulcans sleep less than humans, and as you may have noticed the temperature moderates significantly at night. This garden was designed to provide a pleasing aesthetic experience that combines scent, sound, and reflected light in a comfortable nocturnal setting.”
“Yeah? So where is everybody?”
“Apparently they have found more profitable pursuits this evening.” She frowned, perhaps at his combative tone. “It is also cold tonight by Vulcan standards.”
He sighed and folded his arms. “On earth this would be a romantic place to take your girlfriend and make out. But on Vulcan nobody ever has a girlfriend, do they?”
She said nothing for a long moment. Then, softly, she said, “You are upset.”
“Of course I’m upset. Tomorrow morning I have to watch you marry some guy you hardly know because of some hidebound Vulcan tradition that you don’t even believe in.”
“I never said I don’t believe in the tradition.”
He stared at her. “If you believed in it, then why the hell would you even think of screwing around with me?”
T’Pol voice got very low. “Would you prefer I had not?”
“No,” he said. “No.” He grabbed her hand again.
“This ceremony tomorrow is a legal formality,” T’Pol said. “I consider it a contract I am undertaking to benefit my mother. I do not consider it truly binding until it is consummated, or until Koss and I begin to live together, and that may not happen for some time yet. Perhaps it will never happen at all.”
Trip stared at her. “Meaning?”
“I see no reason to change my behavior simply because circumstances have forced me into this arrangement. If you wished to continue our relationship . . .”
“Wait a minute.” He stared at her, appalled. “Are you getting married tomorrow or aren’t you?”
“As I said . . .”
He stood up, the better to tower over her. “Don’t give me that crap! You may want to put off consummating the thing, but tomorrow you are officially binding yourself to this guy for the rest of your life. If you’re going to do this at all you better admit that you’re doing it for real. And I don’t know what kind of ethics you have on Vulcan but I sure as hell don’t intend to sleep around with another man’s wife!”
She stared up at him, her face small and white in the moonlight, and he began to regret yelling at her even if he couldn’t regret the sentiments. But before he could apologize she was up on her feet, not looking at him at all. “We should go,” was all she said, and he followed her out of the garden. They walked in silence up the long street to her mother’s house, and into the courtyard and then the living room. The house was only dimly lit; it appeared T’Les had already retired.
“Goodnight, Commander,” she said, and turned toward the other hallway.
“T’Pol,” Trip said, “Look. I’m sorry. I’m . . . I’m having a hard time with all this.”
“That is understandable,” she said softly, and turned to go.
“Are you going to be okay?” he asked.
For just a moment, before she schooled it into a chilly blankness, her face blazed with resentment. “Of course. Tomorrow I will be secluded in ritual meditation in the morning, then attended by my cousin as I dress for the wedding. So I will not see you until the ceremony. I am deeply sorry for what you have had to endure on this visit. I hope . . . I hope you have a safe journey home.”
“Then this is goodbye?” He felt a surge of panic.
She nodded without quite looking at him and held out her hand for a handshake.
He took it and suddenly he felt as if he were drowning in a flood of despair and grief that was not his own – it was too flavored by an overwhelming sense of shame that simply wasn’t his. He let go of her hand and the sensation diminished but did not disappear. He stared at her; she looked taken aback. “T’Pol?” he said. “What the hell was that?”
“I’m not sure.”
“I felt you . . .” He could still feel a whisper of something. Puzzlement? Dismay?
Her expression resolved into something formal and the sensation disappeared. “I believe I require meditation.”
Didn’t she realize how insane this whole thing was? How completely and utterly wrong? “There’s got to be some way out of this. We could call the consulate, right now. We could just go. Get off this damned planet, go back to Enterprise.”
“And my mother?”
“She’s a strong woman. She’ll be okay. You can’t go through with this!”
“Trip, this planet is my home. I am my mother’s only child. I have no choice.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it!”
She gave him pretty much the same fondly exasperated look she’d give him if they were arguing over a bridge protocol. He felt a light touch of something in his head, almost as if she’d given him an affectionate pat. “I’m sorry,” she said, and walked away.
And that was it. It was over.
So he went to his room and packed his duffels and stared at the Vulcan robes T’Les had hung in the closet for him to wear tomorrow. A strange numbness crept over him, and he prepared for bed without thinking about anything except that he should remember to pack his toothbrush and razor in the morning; he planned to leave just as soon as the ceremony was over.
Only when he turned out the light and lay down on the bed in the moonlight did thoughts start crowding in. Was there something he was missing here? Something he could do, instead of waiting for T’Pol to suck it up and tell them all to go to hell, which was about as likely as some intergalactic fairy godmother floating over to Vulcan and starting to throw fairy dust around?
And then he had a very dark idea: What if he killed Koss? The man was taking away his woman! He was trying to steal something that didn’t belong to him! Trip would fight him and kill the bastard! He imagined wrapping his hands around the Vulcan’s neck, pressing down with all his strength, crushing the man’s windpipe, pulverizing his spine under his fingers with the sheer force of his fury.
He sat up and blinked. Where the hell had that come from? It was ridiculous. He had about as much chance of killing a healthy Vulcan male as he had of growing wings, and even if he could the idea was barbaric. T’Pol was a grown woman. If she decided to marry Koss instead of him, that was just Trip’s tough break.
Not that he’d ever asked her to marry him, had he? Never got around to that little detail. Never even realized he wanted to get around to that little detail until it was too late. He was a goddamned fool. But would that really have changed anything?
Why the hell had she taken him to that garden tonight of all nights, to sit in the moonlight among the flowers? Was she trying to torture him?
Was she trying to make love to him?
She had been telling him that nothing had to change, that they could continue their relationship, that maybe somehow this would all amount to nothing in the end. And he’d thrown it right back in her face. If he couldn’t have all of her then by God he didn’t want any of her. He’d extinguished any hope she’d managed to conjure out of this situation, even if it was a stupid, self-deceiving hope. Even if it was a hope that was profoundly unfair to him.
Oh, T’Pol. All that despair, all that shame. Shame that he had helped to heap upon her. If she hadn’t felt all alone in the universe before, she surely did now.
As did he.
And yet, perversely, he felt more bound to her than ever.
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