"Before Everything Else"
Author's Note: Going forward, italics will represent mental conversation unless otherwise part of an obvious verbal dialogue.
He watched; quietly, unobtrusively. He did not hide, nor did he invite attention. He simply watched.
As the brief memorial service concluded, he noticed the delegates flood around the grieving Enterprise crewman, one in dress blues, and one in formal robes of mourning. For close to half an hour, what he observed both fascinated and impressed him. He saw an obviously grieving Commander Tucker ward off every single well-wisher in such a manner that while he did not dismiss their sentiments, he categorically refused them any and all contact with Commander T’Pol. And he did this so successfully it was doubtful the well-wishers, delegates and Starfleet alike, were even aware of it.
And so at that moment, Ambassador Soval went from watching them…to watching over them. He searched out the closest exit to the grieving duo then began his approach. His demeanor and, yes, his reputation cleared the way for him to quickly get close to the pair. He quietly excused his way around the crowd to come in behind the Commanders, making sure to approach on Commander Tucker’s side, so as not to disturb his former protégé.
Trip glanced to his right, eyes red-rimmed and glazed. He quickly made sure T’Pol was secure behind him, out of reach of the well-meaning delegates, before automatically raising his right hand, fingers split in the vee that signaled the Vulcan greeting. “Peace and long life, Ambassador. Thanks for coming.”
Soval returned his greeting solemnly, offering a half-bow of respect to the human who garnered that respect more and more at every meeting. He then pivoted slightly to offer the same half-bow to T’Pol. “Vulcan grieves with thee, T’Pol-kan. I grieve with thee,” he stressed. “With both of you.”
T’Pol, whose gaze had been focused downward since leaving Enterprise well over an hour ago and who had relied solely on her bondmate’s guidance, finally raised her eyes. “You honor us, Tela’at1,” she murmured quietly.
In just that brief statement, Soval could tell the young Vulcan’s control was in jeopardy. Swiftly putting his plan in motion, he stepped between the crowd and Commander Tucker and motioned them toward the exit. “Please make your escape, Commanders. I will convey your appreciation to those remaining and check in with you later. If this is agreeable?”
Trip’s eyes closed in gratitude. He mentally checked with T’Pol before murmuring quietly, “Thank you, sir. It’s very agreeable.”
Trip wasted no time maneuvering his wife over to the exit, relying on Soval to keep anyone from following. He pulled his communicator out of his pocket as they made their way to the rear of the building. “Tucker to Reed.”
“Reed here, Commander.”
“Operation Hermitage, Lieutenant. Beta site.” Trip silently thanked every deity in the universe for friends like Malcolm Reed. Thorough and prepared, Malcolm had quickly come up with an exit plan early this morning after Trip had confessed to him his reservations about him and T’Pol being around that many people.
“Understood, sir. Reed out.” Malcolm had been waiting for this signal. He’d been keeping his eye on the pair for nearly the entire time since they’d left Enterprise, so their sneaking away had come as no surprise. He’d even sent Ensign Mayweather ahead to the shuttlepod in anticipation as soon as the service had concluded.
And less than two minutes later, Shuttlepod Two was landing behind
“Yes, sir.” Travis quickly lifted off, quietly communicating with Starfleet ground control and ignoring those in the back. Out of respect, Travis refused to disturb them. The way he figured it, their day was tough enough already. And though he was sure Commander Tucker would speak with him if prompted, it wasn’t the right thing to do. And no way was he going to attempt to make small talk with his Vulcan XO.
Trip’s meditation ended abruptly at the sound of the door chime. He jerked and quickly backed away from T’Pol, circling around to sit in front of her. Having grown used to her meditations being interrupted frequently over the years, T’Pol had not startled out of her meditation. She carefully eased herself out, unwilling to destroy the hours of effort she’d put in to regaining her control. She could not, however, hide her dissatisfaction from her bondmate.
Trip smiled ruefully. I’ll come back to you as soon as you get rid of your visitor. Unless you’re ready to announce our relationship to everyone, its best if I’m not seen snuggled up to your back.
It is certainly something we need to discuss. Our relationship should be private, not necessarily secret. Aloud she muttered, “Come in.”
Jonathan Archer’s eyes widened at the sight before him. His First Officer and Chief Engineer were sitting across from each other, on either side of T’Pol’s meditation candle. Her quarters were dimly lit; the glow of half a dozen candles the only illumination.
“I don’t mean to disturb you,” he started.
Trip looked over his shoulder. “S’Okay, Cap’n. We were just meditatin’.” Trip wanted to laugh at the expression that crossed his old friend’s face.
Archer stepped just inside so the door could close behind him, then knelt down so he was at their level, an amused smirk gracing his features. “Not something I guess I ever thought I’d see you do, Trip.”
The engineer just shrugged and turned around to face him. “It’s helpin’ T’Pol. Kinda the meditation version of the buddy-buddy system.” He sighed and looked back at his wife; sent her a burst of affection across their bond. “An’ I’m not gonna lie and say it isn’t helpin’ me, too.”
Archer nodded and looked down, nervously rubbed his hands over his knees. “You guys need anything?” He looked up at them, his face solemn. “Anything at all? All you’ve got to do is ask.”
T’Pol locked eyes with Trip. He needs to know. Not now, but soon.
Trip silently agreed. Guess we better have that talk sooner rather than later.
T’Pol looked over to Archer. “Time, Captain. We just require time.”
“You’ve got all the time you need.” Jon smirked. “Hell, every senior officer on this ship has more leave than we know what to do with.” He looked back and forth between the two. “You need to go anywhere, anywhere at all; I’ll arrange it for you.
“Thanks, Jon. We’ll let you know.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
Archer sighed and stood up. “Ok, I’ll leave you two alone.” He stopped as he was half-way out the door. “Oh, Hoshi received a request from Ambassador Soval a little while ago. Is it okay by you if he comes aboard to see you?”
T’Pol tipped her head. “He is welcome. He came to our aide earlier this morning and is, no doubt, ‘checking up’ on us.”
The captain smiled. “Alright. I’ll have him brought this way when he arrives. You two don’t forget to holler at me if you need anything.”
Trip nodded at him as the door slid shut. Guess maybe we have less than an hour before the Ambassador shows up, what do you think?
Well, I’m gonna fetch us supper then. You missed lunch. Trip silently stood his ground. I’m not having you get sick just’ cause you don’t feel like eatin’!
T’Pol’s brow rose in consternation. You have missed just as many meals as I have, Adun.
Trip frowned. At least I had breakfast this morning.
You know Vulcans can go without food much longer than humans.
Trip sighed, stood up, and paced a few feet across the room. T’Pol sensed a sad agitation in him that had nothing to do with his grief over
Trip turned around, grabbed T’Pol’s hand before she could remove it. He held it to his chest and smiled weakly at her. “I just feel like I’m failing you, that I’m not takin’ care of you like I should be.” He shrugged. “I mean, I know you can take care of yourself an’ all, but I just have this need I can’t explain. Like I have to do everything I can to help you be content, and I’m not.” His eyes watered, and he took a shuddered breath. “So please forgive me if I keep tryin’ to feed you ‘cause I don’t know what else to do,” he finished plaintively, squeezing her hand tightly.
T’Pol’s own eyes watered in response. “You most certainly are helping me. I would not even be functional without you,” she insisted forcefully. “You are not failing me in any way, my Adun.” T’Pol’s entire body began to tremble in reaction to his feelings. She took a deep breath and palmed his face with her free hand. “I know you are aware of my inability to meditate without you. You are giving no weight to your mere presence. And you have no understanding for all that you did for me at this morning’s service.” She pressed her paired fingers to his lips, the resulting cascade of feeling a balm to his soul.
Trip gathered her up in a one-armed embrace. “I don’t know why you put up with me,” he choked out against her shoulder.
T’Pol pulled back and cupped his face in her hands, wiping his tears away with her thumbs. “You are my adun. My ashayam. The other half to my katra.” She leaned in to briefly press her lips against his. “That is why I put up with you,” she murmured before leaning in for a more intensive kiss. And thus, she spent the next twenty minutes reassuring him in a most pleasant fashion, until they were interrupted by the door chime.
Trip leaned his forehead against his wife’s. I guess supper can wait, after all.
Indeed. I found how we spent the last half hour to be much more satisfying than forcing myself to ingest a meal I did not want to begin with.
Trip smirked. “Can’t argue there. You win another one.”
He shifted her aside and went to get the door. It was no surprise to see Ambassador Soval standing there. Trip stood to the side and motioned with his good arm, “Come in, Ambassador. Thanks, Ensign” he dismissed the dignitary’s escort with a nod and allowed the door to close.
Soval faced Trip and raised his hand in greeting. “Peace and long life to you both.”
Trip frowned slightly, unsure why the Ambassador seemed to only address him, even though his words seemed meant for both of them.
Soval is aware we are bonded, Adun. He is following Vulcan custom by addressing the male of the household.
Trip’s gaze shot over to T’Pol. How does he know? “Live long and prosper, sir. We’re honored to have you.”
T’Pol raised a brow in amusement. He is Vulcan. Newly bonded couples are easily sensed by those with as strong a psi-rating as the Ambassador’s. You also behaved as my bonded mate in public at this morning’s service. Any Vulcan present would have noticed.
Soval glanced down at the meditation pillows and table. “I hope I am not disturbing you, Commanders.”
I was trying to protect you!
Exactly my point. And it was much appreciated. T’Pol moved back toward the meditation candle and sat down before it. “Not at all, Ambassador,” she murmured softly. “Amsetri tre.2 Please join us.” She motioned to the place directly across from her own.
Where am I supposed to sit now?
Where you usually sit during our meditations.
Are you crazy? With the Ambassador sitting right there?
T’Pol shot a burst of amusement into her bondmate’s mind. He will not be surprised, ashayam. You are my bondmate…and we are grieving. I require you near, and he will understand this. She waited a beat. Come sit. She then held out two paired fingers for him to take.
Trip reached out uneasily to gently grasp her fingers with his own pair, enjoyed the wash of feelings the touch produced, and moved to sit behind her. He settled in nervously, unsure if he should snuggle up to her as he usually did or not. He opted not to for the moment and sighed. “I’m trying very hard to learn the customs of your people, Ambassador, but I’m gonna admit I’m a mite confused.”
Soval merely raised a brow at the young human.
Trip absently plucked at his pants, unsure where to place his hands. “You didn’t come all the way up here just to meditate with us, didja?”
T’Pol turned her head to the side. “As a matter of fact, he did.”
Trip frowned and glanced over to Soval.
Soval brought his hands together in front of him, forming a triangle. He took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “It is tradition, Commander Tucker.”
Well that clears it up! Trip sighed, still lost.
“Trip.” T’Pol waited for him to meet her gaze. “You know Vulcans grieve by meditating. Tradition dictates that, when possible, family members meditate with those who grieve most. It is but one reason you have been so necessary for my well-being.”
It startled Trip that she would allude to something so personal in front of the Ambassador. Then he realized what she was truly saying. His gaze shot back and forth between T’Pol and Soval. “Does that mean…? How are you...? You two are…?”
T’Pol quickly suppressed her amusement lest either of the men detect it. “Soval is my en’ahr’at. What you would call a ‘godfather.’ My well-being has always been his concern.”
Soval tipped his head. “How long have you two been bonded, T’Pol-kan?”
“I have known about the bond for less than one Earth month, but I believe it formed while we were in the Expanse. I informed Trip of its presence approximately twelve days ago.” She shot a quick glance over her shoulder at her husband before continuing dryly, “It explained many things.”
Intrigued, Soval queried further. “It formed on its own? It was not of your choosing?”
T’Pol lifted her own brow. “It formed on its own, however logic dictates it would not have formed had either of us not desired it.” She looked down at her hands. “It was only yesterday that we discussed, at length, what it means for us. My mate is human, Tela’at. He is remarkably intelligent, but it will still take longer than a day to impart to him all he needs to know. As he indicated moments ago, he is trying.”
Soval tipped his head in agreement. “Point.” He again addressed Trip, who was starting to get restless as they talked about him. “My apologies, Commander. The reason I inquired as to the length of your bond is because you were unaware of my relationship to T’Pol, no other reason. I grieve with thee not only for the loss of your daughter, but also for the time you’ve lost as the ‘newly bonded.’ This should be a time of discovery and of contentment, not sorrow and grief.”
Trip sighed, his fatigue finally catching up to him. “I understand, Ambassador. I really do.” He gazed at T’Pol’s profile in abject adoration. “And I’m about to say something completely human, and I hope you won’t be offended.” Before either Vulcan had time to lift a brow, he continued, “I am in love with T’Pol…and I’m guessin’ there’s a real goofy look on my face right now that proves it. I can’t think of one thing I want right now more than her contentment.” He rubbed his face wearily. “The last thing I want to do is embarrass her or commit some major cultural taboo. I just don’t want anything I do to reflect badly on her, but I’m human. I’m just a mere human, Ambassador. I’m learnin’ as fast as I can.”
Soval’s brows rose higher on his forehead the longer Trip spoke. Once the engineer finished speaking, Soval leaned forward. “It was never my intention to indicate otherwise, Commander. Please do not misunderstand. I am in full support of this bond.”
T’Pol’s eyes widened, and Trip’s jaw dropped. Shock reverberated throughout their bond.
Soval continued, “Spontaneously-formed Vulcan mating bonds are extraordinarily rare. Yours is the first of which I’ve actually been aware. It would be supremely illogical not to support such a union. Additionally, Commander, I hold great respect for you which seems to grow each time we meet. Today was no exception.”
Trip exhaled heavily. “I’m a…not sure what to say, sir.” He caught T’Pol’s gaze out of the corner of his eye, her pleasure practically rolling across the bond in waves.
“Nothing need be said,” Soval stated. “Your protection of her today, your efforts to prevent hostilities between Vulcan and Andoria during the recent Reformation, and your willingness to adopt many Vulcan customs demonstrates your suitability as a bondmate to T’Pol.” He paused for several minutes before continuing softly. “It was solely through your subconscious actions today, however, that gave your bond unbreakable legitimacy, Commander, as well as my unsolicited approval.” He resolutely met Trip’s gaze. “You demonstrated your innate understanding of the first tenet to achieving balance within the Vulcan mating bond. Before everything else, there is the bond.”
Trip nodded seriously before admitting, “I’ve actually been thinking of it as ‘before everything else, there is T’Pol.’ How’s that work for ya?”
Soval suppressed a smile and looked to T’Pol.
She just shrugged. “Ish-veh komihn3, Tela’at. Ish-veh komihn.”
Soval shifted his gaze back to Trip. “Yes. A somewhat remarkable human, though.”
T’Pol peeked over at Trip through her lashes and held out her paired index and middle fingers. “Indeed.” She suppressed a sigh when her bondmate met them with his own.
Before everything else, darlin’.
Before everything else, Adun.
Is there gonna be a quiz, ya think? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure I’ve got this one. What did he call it? Oh, yeah. A tenet. How many are there?
Hope there’s a quiz. Love you.
And I you.
1Tela’at = Elder
2Amsetri tre = Your presence honors us.
3Ish-veh komihn = He is human.
The Story continues in The 2nd Tenet.
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