Disclaimer: None of it's mine. I'm just a sad little fangirl that spends her days writing fanfic and watching taped episodes of her favorite shows :(
Description: A meeting between two of Enterprise's crewmembers decades after the end of the series.
Author's Note: Actually, I have two. 1) I've decreed this will be the last post-TATV, because that was the shittiest finale in the history of television and I'm tired of acknowledging it, even for the sake of angsty fics. 2) This story was written as an experiment in style. I rely heavily on description, so I wanted to strip a story down to almost nothing but dialogue and see how it worked. This was the result.
Midmorning San Francisco, California, was the center of a hubbub of Starfleet activity. Officers and enlisted men and women trickling in and out of the nearby Starfleet Headquarters mingled with the harried students from equally close-by Starfleet Academy. The city was a segment of humanity with a single purpose, the homeport from which mankind reached for the stars and things greater than themselves, and for it San Francisco had become one of the best cities on the planet Earth. There was a sense of camaraderie, almost even a sense of family among strangers passing on the street, for two times out of ten two people previously unknown to one another would cross paths and acknowledge the identical Starfleet insignia on their persons, be it the rank indicators of Headquarters or the patriotic emblem of the Academy. Mankind was at its best in San Francisco, California, Earth, the most hopeful and optimistic.
The weather wasn't bad, either.
On the patio of a small, cozy coffee shop overlooking the bay, a woman sat alone at a table. She occasionally sipped her chamomile tea. She was in no hurry. Unlike most of the bustling people around her, her business could be put on hold while she took a moment to take in the nearing noon. Several Starfleet officers and cadets recognized her but beside a polite nod if she happened to catch their eyes they left her alone, unbothered. It was not to shun her, but rather a show of respect. Like a monument to Zephram Cochrane on a promenade, anyone affiliated with Starfleet had a kind of inborn near-reverence for the woman sitting silently drinking her tea.
She was dressed in business casual Earth attire, and on first glance one might mistake her for any middle-aged, dignified creature of feminine grace. If anything would catch the eye it would first be her bearing, like that of a retired dancer who no longer floated but whose body remembered the sensation. And if one looked longer and closer they might notice the slanted eyebrows or the pointed ears peaking through honey-brown hair, streaked with the barest hints of silver.
She cast her eyes on the water and took an unrushed drink from her cup. At her station, her place in life, she was permitted the moment to reflect.
Her peace was gently broken, as tenderly as one pulled petals off a flower, by an approaching admiral of Starfleet. His insignia and rank pips caught the sun and of the patrons demanded respect. He was a figure of power and he moved as though he knew it.
Only from the lone Vulcan woman did the admiral expect to be treated as an equal, addressed by a friend and not sycophant or subordinate.
T'Pol of Vulcan turned her eyes calmly up to Jonathan Archer as he reached her table. At first they took stock of the passage of time in one another's appearance. For Archer it was more physically apparent; with T'Pol the change registered mostly in a matronly dignity and the dashes of silver at her temples.
"Hello, Jonathan," T'Pol finally greeted in return.
Jonathan smiled, a grin still boyish in contrast to the wrinkles in his face, and he moved to the empty chair across from T'Pol. He gestured at it, asking permission to join her, and with a small nod she granted it.
Jonathan sat down and folded his elbows atop the table. He leaned inward, for the time being tuned out the café buzzing around them, and studied his old friend. She regarded him with a stillness that would have come across as aloof to anyone who did not know T'Pol as Jonathan did.
Finally he spoke. "What's it been, T'Pol, twenty years?"
"Eighteen," she answered.
Jonathan shook his head and ran a hand through his salt and pepper hair. "I can't believe it's been so long. Sometimes it seems like Enterprise's first mission was just last year, other times it feels like a lifetime ago." For a moment silence lapsed as the former Enterprise captain reminisced, walked paths down his memories. Eventually, Jonathan turned his eyes, still sharp in defiance of his age, to the Vulcan and his gaze glittered with affection. "It's great to see you again."
T'Pol's left eyebrow twitched. "It is well to see you once again."
A waitress sidled up to their table softly, tentative around the weighty company seated together, and gave a warm smile. "Hello, Admiral. Can I get you something?"
Jonathan sat back in his seat. "Coffee, please."
While the waitress jotted down the order on a computerized pad then left, T'Pol's eyes turned once again to the bay and the sparkle of sunlight glinting off the distant peaks in the water's undulating surface.
"So, how have you been?" Jonathan's voice pulled her back to the table.
T'Pol slid her cup an inch closer to the center of table and replied, "I am well."
Jonathan nodded. "I heard you were granted a top-level position at the Vulcan Consulate a short while back."
"That is correct."
"Then congratulations are in order. You've earned it."
T'Pol gave a half-nod of acknowledgment and trailed her index fingernail idly down the side of her cup.
Jonathan seemed content to share the silence and looked over at the other café patrons. "Nice place. Come here often?"
"Yes. I find the view aesthetically pleasing."
Jonathan looked over his shoulder at the San Francisco bay and chuckled. He turned an amused eye on T'Pol and commented, "Kind of peculiar, a Vulcan liking the ocean."
T'Pol faintly cocked her head and lifted an eyebrow, a gesture Jonathan had long ago learned to equate as a T'Pol-smirk. "It is true that for most Vulcans Earth's oceans are... disconcerting. Perhaps overwhelming is a more accurate description." She glanced up at the nearby water and said, "I prefer to come no closer than this."
"But you like the view?" Jonathan queried, obviously confused.
T'Pol nodded and said plainly, "Trip was fond of the ocean."
A heavy silence seemingly dropped from the sky and landed on their table. Jonathan's smile faltered and his eyes dropped to his hands. T'Pol's gaze slid to a pigeon looking for crumbs on the café outdoor deck near her feet.
Jonathan sighed and pulled slightly away from T'Pol. "I guess there's no reason to pretend like we don't know why we haven't spoken in so long."
Jonathan crossed his arms over his chest, unknowingly defensive.
T'Pol regarded him a moment then said, "If you are angry with me–"
"No, of course not," Jonathan reflexively said, then paused and continued in a softer voice, "I'm not mad at you, T'Pol. I was never mad. I didn't understand. I wanted to, I wanted to help, but when you left for Vulcan... I didn't know what to do for you."
The waitress spared T'Pol needing to immediately answer by bringing Jonathan his coffee. The mug sat, untouched, as Jonathan looked closely at T'Pol.
"There was nothing you could have done. It was something I needed to do," she finally said in a low voice.
Jonathan nodded slowly. "That's what Phlox told me. He said you and Trip were... he said you were once bondmates." Jonathan's voice caught, still, after all these years, and he looked away to regather his composure.
In the silence, T'Pol interjected, "You were offended I never told you."
Jonathan winced. "I was hurt that Trip never did. I shouldn't be, that was between you and him, but... Trip was my best friend. I just wish I'd known how close you two were. I think sometimes it was my fault for not seeing it. I was the captain, you two were my friends, and I never really understood what was really going on..."
"It was not for you to know."
Sitting back slowly in his seat, Jonathan gave a sad nod of surrender. He sighed. And he understood. "I'm sorry."
T'Pol placed her hands in her lap as though to not touch the subject that he would not let lie.
"I should have been there for you, T'Pol. Because you were my friend, but also because it's what Trip would have wanted."
T'Pol's face closed. "He would have 'wanted' to live."
"Yeah… and everything would be different."
T'Pol looked down at her half-empty cup.
Jonathan leaned into the table again, let his forearms take his weight, and allowed his head to droop in resignation. "I regret not being able to do more to help you. I know... now... how hard it was for you right after Trip died. I wish I'd been there for you when you were being treated on Vulcan."
"It was a difficult time for both of us," T'Pol conceded in a barely strained voice.
"I didn't need special psychological counseling to handle his death," Jonathan retorted without thinking. T'Pol froze, conspicuously expressionless.
Jonathan looked up sheepishly at her. "I'm sorry, that was out of line. I didn't come here to make you uncomfortable. Let's not talk about... that."
An awkward silence fell, and while most would say such an occurrence would be expected when a Vulcan and human sat together, it was a sign of something broken for Jonathan and T'Pol. There had been a time when silences weren't awkward, when conversation wasn't stilted, when Trip had sat between them.
"How are your children?" T'Pol asked.
Jonathan smiled. "They're great. My second oldest just had a little boy, my first grandson."
T'Pol canted her head where a human might have offered a smile. "Congratulations."
"Thanks." A beat. "And, uh, your husband?"
T'Pol looked a hard moment at Jonathan across the table. The other patrons continued to chatter gaily. Slowly, T'Pol answered. "I have heard nothing of any ill health, so I presume he is fine."
"How long's it been since you two saw each other?"
Jonathan frowned. Where once it had been so easy to follow the alien path of the woman across from him, now it was a forest impossible to navigate, alien again before his eyes. "You haven't seen Setol in five years?"
"Doesn't that… don't you miss him?"
T'Pol's look was leagues from him, beyond his grasp, withholding a knowledge he'd lost the right to attain. "When necessary, our paths will cross."
"'Paths will cross'? He's your-" Jonathan stopped.
T'Pol stared him down with an unblinking gaze.
Jonathan wiped his mouth with one hand. "I'm sorry, T'Pol. I've no right to judge."
"No, you haven't."
"I just… don't understand, and I guess it just frustrates me a little."
"It is a suitable arrangement for us both; that is all that need concern you regarding my marriage."
Jonathan studied T'Pol a long time. T'Pol returned his look, unflinching. Time stood still at that lone table of the café.
In the ensuing silence, Jonathan let his eyes move to the other patrons of the café, watching the ease with which they laughed and smiled with their companions, because it was easier than watching T'Pol sitting impassively and stoically across from him, inscrutable as a painting. The others' merriment only made the tension at the admiral's table stand out in stark contrast.
It was a silent stand off on who would speak next.
As might be expected, the human's patience broke first. With a sudden resolve, Jonathan turned to once again face T'Pol and said in a rush, "This isn't going to work, is it?"
T'Pol lifted a questioning eyebrow at him.
Jonathan hesitated. He tried to stop himself from going down the inevitable road, but it had been too long overdue already. Jonathan studied T'Pol's perfectly composed features and the utter mask of her eyes.
"After Trip…" Jonathan faltered and T'Pol's expression flickered for the barest fraction of a second. For only that long did she look like the woman Jonathan had known long ago. In the next second, it and she was gone. He took a breath and leaned in closer to lower his voice so the other café customers wouldn't overhear. "After we lost Trip, I thought… I thought we'd be okay."
T'Pol stared at him. It was almost patronizing, but not quite. She would not react and Jonathan swallowed anxiously.
"I mean," he added, "of course, not right away. You… well, we both had to deal with it. But I thought, after that… T'Pol, I thought…"
"Thought we could be friends," T'Pol finished calmly.
Jonathan closed his eyes and nodded. When he looked up at her he smiled thinly. "Eighteen years… I don't think we're ever going to get back there. I kept thinking 'give it time', but I don't think we can get past… Trip. Do you?"
For a moment T'Pol said nothing. Jonathan waited tensely for her reply. She did not falter as she said evenly, "I have known that for eighteen years, Jonathan."
Jonathan blinked in surprise. "You… you always knew?"
"But… why?" He sounded plaintive. He noticed the pitch of his own voice and cleared his throat before he continued. "I used to think we were friends. I know at one time we were; you can't deny that. For all these years I've believed our friendship was worth trying to save. You mean you never wanted to try?"
"It would have been illogical."
"Because the T'Pol you called your friend died eighteen years ago."
Jonathan hated how it sounded, but he knew it was true the moment she said it. He looked at her and saw it was true.
He took a moment in silence to grapple with that understanding. When he spoke again, it was with a bitter chuckle. "I think I might have known it, too, I just… refused to listen to myself."
"Humans have a talent for disregarding what they do not want to hear."
Jonathan looked at his untouched coffee with distaste. "So… that's it, then?"
"So it would seem."
Jonathan scowled and looked over his shoulder at the water. The calm ripples offered no comfort now. "T'Pol," he asked softly, then slowly turned his head to regard her once again. "If you knew from the beginning that we could never be… like we were… why didn't you tell me?"
T'Pol pressed her lips together in thought and she appeared to study her former captain. Perhaps to gauge how honest an answer he really wanted. At last, she answered, "I believed you needed the hope."
Jonathan laughed, though it was short and bittersweet. "I guess I did." He frowned and grew somber as the finality of their exchange sank in. "I'm going to miss you, T'Pol."
"You will miss the idea of me."
"No… I'll miss you. Even if things were never the same after Trip… even then, I still cared about you."
T'Pol lowered her gaze. "I will always wish you peace and long life, Jonathan."
"Yeah… you too." With that, he stood. T'Pol looked up at him, and for a moment he was visibly reluctant to leave.
"Look, ah… if you ever need anything…"
Jonathan nodded. "Okay. Well, take care of yourself, T'Pol."
T'Pol watched the admiral walk away. When he had disappeared from sight, she turned her eyes back to the water and took another sip of her tea.
Late that evening T'Pol returned to her quarters at the Vulcan Consulate. She entered the empty abode to dimmed lighting and air still laced with the smell of burned wick from the candle she had blown out that morning.
"Computer, lights," she spoke aloud, and at her command the illumination in the quarters increased. T'Pol looked around her home. Technically, it was Setol's home as well, but in the living areas there was no outward evidence of that. The living space was functional, impersonal, and neutral. Identifying personal effects were absent from the living areas. T'Pol knew, in Setol's private room, he kept the things that reminded him of his first wife. Those were the possessions precious to Setol. Setol's first wife had been his betrothed since he was seven… theirs was a traditional union and Setol had been attached to her to a very traditional Vulcan degree.
T'Pol did not care that Setol still grieved for his wife. It would be hypocritical for her to do so. In her private room were a Frankenstein toy and a bowl of candles scented like peach blossoms.
T'Pol moved through her house toward her home, the personal space within the impersonal dwelling where she went to feel at peace.
Her room was Spartan and austere, clean and warm, quintessentially Vulcan but for the blue bed sheets.
With unrushed placidity, T'Pol changed into a more comfortable Vulcan robe and retrieved one of the peach blossom candles from its bowl (a bowl that had once been the vessel of a very human gift of real peaches). She arranged her meditation pad on the floor, lit the candle, and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath and turned her consciousness inward.
Her awareness slowly bled from black to white as she left the physical body and immersed in the mind. Her sensations became light. She left the encounter with Jonathan that day, her marriage to Setol, her work at the Consulate behind as she traveled into her own thoughts. There the white took her and made her calm.
She was at peace. She saw herself standing in the white expanse, serene and timeless.
And yet… waiting.
T'Pol opened her eyes to the whiteness of her internal sanctuary and the voice. The one she had been waiting for. She turned and looked directly into Trip's blue eyes.
In the white of her mind he stood just behind her shoulder, intimately close. In her mind, she could smell him and sense him as she had twenty years ago. In her mind, he was alive.
He smiled at her. The sense of peace and content filled her every conscious thought.
"I was waitin' for ya," Trip said gently.
T'Pol knew there were things that had delayed her meeting with him in this place inside her, reasons she had not been with him always, but she couldn't remember them. Didn't want to. "I am here now."
Trip nodded, then he reached out and took her hand softly in his own. "Come on, ya gotta see what Elizabeth learned to do today." He turned her and led her forward. She followed where he led her, to the others in the whiteness with them. T'Pol looked at Lorian the only way she had known him, grown and gray, walking doubled over so little Elizabeth could hold on to his hands while she took her first steps. She beamed up at her mother proudly. Lorian looked up at her and smiled, a smile just like Trip's.
Here, it was always Elizabeth's first step, Lorian was older than Trip but it made no difference, Trip was gone and yet he lived on forever, parted from her but never parted.
T'Pol went to her family and lived in the memory.