Title: "Moments Between"
Author: Little Red
Category: Enterprise. Trip/T'Pol. Little Red fangirling T'Pol's mom.
Spoilers: post-ep for "Home."
Summary: After the ceremony, Trip stays the night on Vulcan.
Trip can't think about her being touched by another man, so he fixes the food synthesizer.
What he supposes can be called a reception has been over for a few hours. It was predictably without dancing or drunken relatives or the happy couple smashing cake into each other's faces; T'Pol would never have understood the point of that one. The solemn dinner was full of well-timed bells and rituals that T'Pol performed flawlessly. Something about her demeanor reminded him of the way she seemed when they first met on Enterprise: stiff and out of place.
He can hear T'Pol's mother moving through the next room with quiet, measured steps and at once blesses her and curses her for inviting him back here. He doesn't really have a place here, in T'Pol's childhood home with his hands buried inside her family's kitchen appliances, not when she isn't here because she's with someone else. That argument against accepting the offer makes perfect sense, but his logic was stammered and muddied with the confusion of this all happening so fast, and he was easily overruled.
"You are the valued colleague of my daughter, and a guest of our family."
He thinks he may have seen something else in the older woman's face, an unspoken agenda to keep him around to help T'Pol adjust, but he can't read other Vulcans the way he can read T'Pol. He's probably just desperate to still be somehow useful to her.
He tries to keep his hopes from running wild, and just for a moment, he can't. He imagines her running away from her obligations with a wild abandon she has rarely shown (and never when in perfect mental health), confessing that it was a mistake, asking him to take her home...
An energy cell sparks under his fingers, bringing him back to reality with the sharp pain of singed skin.
T'Pol is home now. Not here and not on Enterprise, but in the house and bed -- God, he can't think that, not yet, not when this is happening so fast -- of a man he only met twice. She knows him no better than he does. He is trying to be open-minded, the way she always wants him to be, to see her culture as something wonderful and different and a part of her rather than something that is choking them both to death.
He examines the damage his carelessness has done to the open guts of the cooking unit in front of him. The burst power cell is a standard one, and he can only imagine that even on Vulcan people keep spares in a closet somewhere. This, at least, will be something he can fix.
"T'Les?" It feels rude not to address her as a Mrs., but here on this world, it isn't. T'Pol has told him that Vulcans do have a second name, one humans would find unpronounceable. She whispered hers, once, into the pillows when he pestered her and tickled her spine and promised not to even try and butcher it with his human vocal tract. He felt something then, something sad, like never hearing her own name spoken aloud by a voice other than her own was a glimpse of what she had given up by leaving the High Command, and what she was still giving up by being with him.
Strangely, the only time he has ever felt certain that she really was ever with him was the moment she called it off.
"Ma'am?" T'Pol's mother didn't respond to his first call, and he can't bring himself to call her by just her name a second time.
He rounds the corner and finds her seated on the floor in a familiar position. Her eyes are open and looking right at the doorway instead of the candle in front of her, clearly having heard his calls or approach.
"I'm sorry. I didn't realize." He can wait to fix the synthesizer. Or, even better, as the thought of having nothing to do is not an appealing one, he can just work around the missing power cell. He's gotten good at creative engineering the past few years.
"You may join me."
Trip isn't sure -- is even less sure about most Vulcan cultural details than he was two days ago -- but he suspects that an invitation to meditation is not one offered lightly. He has meditated with T'Pol several times before, but in all instances it has been about him, about her teaching him or coaching him or helping him.
"I don't really know how."
T'Les tilts her head slightly, in an expression that would mean 'amused' on T'Pol. Their features are similar, obviously closely related, but T'Les seems to wear them differently. "My daughter has not instructed you?"
It sounds like a leading question, but they are far beyond fudging careful answers. "She tried," he admits. "I'm just not always the best student."
"Sometimes T'Pol makes things seem more complicated than they ought to be," says T'Les, and though her voice doesn't fluctuate as much as a human's would, Trip can tell her words are meant fondly. Nothing she has displayed to him in the days since his arrival could be classed as emotional, but she seems alive and comfortable within herself in a way he has never seen in T'Pol.
Trip wonders if all the Vulcans he has met before this week have seemed so deathly rigid and impossibly strained by their logic only because they have been on Earth, away from home, compensating for the frantic emotions of the humans around them. He wonders if he will ever see T'Pol so relaxed.
He'd like to, but maybe that's impossible. Maybe she'll always have to be on the defensive with him, just because of what he is.
Maybe she really is better off.
"There are many levels of Vulcan meditation," T'Les continues, her calm voice pulling him back from his thoughts. "The simplest requires only that you are still."
"You sure that's the simplest?" He isn't sure he can do still, not after standing immobile in his ritual-ordained spot as an honored guest of the bride's family for all those minutes earlier in the day.
One slim eyebrow raises a fraction of an inch. So much like T'Pol. "In the first stages of meditation instruction, you are not required to do so for long."
There is a second cushion already set out for him, either because she knew he would drift in, eventually, or because she is the sort to be always prepared.
T'Les still hasn't turned back to her candle, and he interprets this to mean that the invitation is still open despite his resistance. He sits down on the edge of the pillow the way T'Pol told him would lengthen his spine and crosses his legs in the manner his grand-dad still called "Indian-style." He tries to shove aside the thought that he may never again be able to sit on the floor of T'Pol's quarters, a candle in front of him and her hands on his back.
T'Pol told him that in meditation, the goal is to empty one's mind, to observe thoughts and feelings that emerge without reacting to them. At this moment, Trip can't come up with anything more appealing than not being able to think and react and feel. Maybe there's something to this after all.
"Fix your eyes on the flame," T'Les advises him. "If you feel your mind start to wander, return your focus to your breath."
Trip inhales and exhales slowly, following the sensation into his lungs the way T'Pol told him to, but this time without cool Vulcan hands on his skin to direct him.
His mind wanders.
Inhale. T'Pol at her wedding, hands trembling slightly as her fingertips met those of her new fiance in what he's sure has to be a traditional, ceremonial gesture. She looked Koss straight in the eye, tradition or determination giving her strength. She's tenacious that way. He's never seen her back down from anything she's set her mind to, anything that she cares strongly enough about.
Exhale. Except him.
Inhale. He doesn't want to be worried about her. He knows how strong she is.
Exhale. He also knows her better than that. Knows that she has been caught between cultures since she left the High Command and that she's not as stable as she once was. His grand-dad would have called her "neither fish nor fowl."
Inhale. Grandpa Tucker, old enough to remember first contact with the Vulcans, was wary of aliens his whole life. Trip still thinks he still would've liked T'Pol. Would've liked teasing her, anyway.
Exhale. Trip's been told many times that he got his sense of humor from the old man, as well as his name. She takes his teasing now, even seems to like it in the way that girls did in primary school because it meant he was paying them attention.
Inhale. He can't be that way around her anymore, casual and flirtatious. She's married now, and he has no idea how he's supposed to go back to Enterprise and work next to her every day, knowing how he feels about her... knowing how she...
Trip's eyes snap open and he swallows hard. He doesn't want to sit still anymore.
Apparently even that action is enough to catch T'Les' attention. She opens her eyes and turns her head toward him. She doesn't look annoyed.
"I don't think I'm doing this right," Trip admits.
"It requires practice," she replies in an undeniably maternal tone, "and patience."
He huffs out half a laugh. "Patience."
"I instructed T'Pol in these methods when she was a child. Vulcan children are expected to learn patience and discipline at a young age."
"Was she a good student?" Trip hasn't seen any photographs in the house. He didn't really expect a Vulcan refrigeration unit to be covered with family photographs and newspaper printouts, but it would've been nice to see a picture of her as a kid. He can almost imagine it -- large eyes, too serious, but with a mischievous smirk that hadn't yet been exorcised by her good Vulcan upbringing.
"She found some disciplines easier than others," is all T'Les will give away. But then, after a moment, "My daughter was never completely content here. She has always been too fascinated by other cultures."
Trip feels his fists clench. He knows it's more than possible that that was what he was -- a fascination that got out of hand -- no matter what it felt like. More than that, he's angry -- at T'Pol, for agreeing to a marriage that will constrain her in a way even her mother seems to think she's not suited for, and at T'Les for not stopping her.
Of course, he didn't stop her, either.
"I am sorry for you, Commander," T'Les says, and though her voice is still as metered and even as any Vulcan's, the apology sounds genuine and defuses some of his anger. "Our ways are difficult for outsiders."
"I'll say," he agrees, and forces a smile.
The older woman inclines her head toward the candle. "Do you wish to try again?"
Before he can answer, he hears a sound from elsewhere in the house and recognizes it as the front door closing. T'Les stands and heads to the entryway to greet the visitor, but Trip knows with the tingling of his skin that there's only one person it can be.
"T'Pol. It is unexpected to see you here this evening." T'Les' greeting through the open doorway is about as bland as a greeting can be, but Trip can somehow hear the concern in her voice.
Trip actually braces himself against her voice. "I am only here for the things I left. I intend to go to-" she cuts off mid-sentence. "Is Commander Tucker still here?"
She probably saw that the kitchen appliances have all been turned inside out -- it's too much to hope for that her skin might be tingling, too. The cat already out of the bag, Trip gets up and heads for the main room to greet her.
"Your mother was kind enough to put me up for the night," he says in explanation, striving to match the calm vocal patterns of his hostess. "Next transport back to Earth doesn't leave until morning."
"I see." He can see the tension in the muscles of T'Pol's neck. He knows which pressure points will relieve it, too, but pushes that knowledge aside; he won't have much use for neuropressure from now on. Even if they did start their sessions as nothing more than friends and coworkers -- and they still are both of those, in theory -- he's pretty sure that won't be something they'll be doing again anytime soon.
T'Les takes a step toward the bedrooms. "I will collect your things for you. I cleaned some of them, and it will be more efficient for me to locate them for you."
It's an excuse to leave them alone, and an obvious one. T'Pol sends a vaguely panicked look at her mother's departing back, but by the time she faces him, her shoulders have squared and her eyes are determined.
Trip cracks a smile, but it's not with happiness. She's in full-on Vulcan mode, and he's pretty sure that no one but him -- and her mother, probably -- could tell how much is going on inside that enigmatic head of hers.
All she says is, "I am pleased you remained for the ceremony," a pale shadow of the shaky confession she whispered at the wedding itself. Her breathing is shallow and her Vulcan veneer is slipping. She looks small to him, and afraid, and he wants to snatch her into a dark room and hold her, stroke the lines of neural pressure points on her back until she calms down.
"Yeah," he says instead, stuffing his hands into his pockets to give them something to do. "It was... something."
It's too late to ask if she's sure about this.
She doesn't look sure. Part of him wants to reclaim her, to wash clean the places where her husband has touched her and make her his, but he's thinking too straight for that. The last thing he wants to do is make it worse.
But he hasn't quite talked himself out of caring about her yet, so he has to ask. "Are you doing okay?"
She looks both surprised and pained at the question. She stalls, working an eyebrow up and down for a moment. "It is an adjustment," she finally admits.
That, at least, is one thing they can agree on.
"I will be all right," she promises, likely in order to reassure them both. "This is what I am."
He frowns, looks her over, and doesn't completely agree. This isn't what she is -- and he knows she knows that, too -- but maybe it's close enough to fit. Eventually.
She's T'Pol. Despite any recent evidence to the contrary, despite her erratic nights of almost tearing him apart with sexual energy or pushing him away completely or curling up beside him to be held and reassured, she is the strongest creature he has ever met.
"You will. I'm sorry I..." he trails off. He's sorry he won't get to see it, not up close. Sorry she won't find her stability with him.
He isn't sure he trusts her husband, trusts that Koss will treat her as well as she deserves, isn't sure the tradition-obsessed Vulcan he met has the patience or kindness or understanding to be what she needs.
But then, Trip never really understood her, either.
Her breathing is still shallow, eyes bright and intense. "I am sorry, too."
T'Les clears her throat in the doorway before entering and then hands off T'Pol's shoulder bag. "Be well," she says.
T'Pol nods. She hesitates only a moment before turning back toward the door. "I will see you back on Enterprise," she promises.
Trip isn't sure what to say in parting. 'Have a good time' isn't nearly Vulcan enough for the setting, and it isn't a sentiment he really wants to think about for her honeymoon, either. He decides on, "See you there."
The door closes, and she's gone. Again.
T'Les observes him in silence for a moment. He doesn't know what she's considering saying, but he's pretty sure he doesn't want to hear any more Vulcan platitudes for a while.
She spares him that. "I am not yet through with my evening meditation. You are still welcome to join me, if you wish."
He shakes his head with a sigh. "I should put your kitchen back together." That's something he can handle. Familiar ground.
T'Les tells him where to find the spare power cell and then retreats to the other room. Trip begins to reconnect the pieces, loses himself in the routine task, the simple connections he could wire and rewire in his sleep.
He stops before the unit is completely reassembled, taking in the total silence of a Vulcan home.
He notices his breathing, slow and even, and how he isn't really thinking about anything, even when there is so much there to think about.
She's coming back to Enterprise.
She'll be all right, she said, and so will he. They won't be all right together, but neither of them will break from this.
In a strange way, he feels as though he understands her more than he ever has before, like if he knew this side of her when all this started it would have worked out -- or never would have happened at all.
And then he realizes -- this isn't easy, but it's bearable, and he has dealt with bearable before. She showed him how.
Trip fits the casing over the food synthesizer and tests it out, admiring the hum of a perfectly tuned machine. Some things are still the same.
As for the rest of it, for her and him and the ridiculous ride he's been on for the past year and a half...
This isn't what he wants, but maybe, after he gets used to it, it will be enough.
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