Glimmer in the Shadows
The door of the Captain's Mess whooshed open, and Jon turned from his place by the window. T'Pol, looking fragile in her layered robes, stepped over the threshold – and stopped. Shadows thrown by the candles he'd arranged in strategic locations emphasized her cheekbones, and painted hollows around her unreadable eyes.
"Come on in," Jon suggested, very gently.
"I think she needs a minute." Trip stepped in, moving to the left of the Vulcan woman. Grief had carved new lines at his eyes and mouth, too. His boyish exuberance had somehow managed to recover from the ravages of the Expanse, but his quick and playful smile seemed to have stayed on leave even though the two of them were finally back.
"Take all the time you need, both of you." Jon tried to figure out if they looked any better now than they had at the memorial five weeks ago. If they did, it wasn't by much.
"Thanks, Cap'n. For everything, from both of us." Trip gestured around with one hand; the candles made flickering shadow puppets.
T'Pol didn't didn't even blink. He hadn't seen her look so implacably Vulcan since the earliest days of their first mission. But he knew her a lot better now than he had then. She didn't have to show her grief and pain outright for Jon to see it as plain as he could Trip's. It was probably a good thing that they'd come back with ten days' leave time left. Trip was adaptable; Jon didn't worry that he'd bounce back in time. But T'Pol – emotion might never be something she could deal with easily, after the Expanse.
Trip leaned down to her, murmuring quietly. He didn't seem concerned by her lack of reaction. She gave the barest suggestion of a nod, and Trip offered her his arm. She placed her hand just beneath the crook of his elbow, and Jon saw something gleam in the candlelight as the engineer glided her to the table. Trip seemed dignified and older than he'd been even two months ago, and he was in full Southern gentleman mode, pulling out her chair and easing her into it. T'Pol looked like she was on autopilot, or as though none of this mattered, and, without Trip's urging, she might have stood there in the doorway for the rest of the night.
"I'll be right beside you," Trip said, softly. But, before he could step away, she grabbed his arm. Trip grunted, and put his hand over hers. "Hey, I'm not going anywhere. This kind of hurts. Can you let go?" T'Pol didn't release him, but Trip stayed calm. "I'll need my arm to move my chair closer." If she appreciated his logic, she didn't give any sign of it; she just kept hanging on as though she didn't know how to let go.
The two of them were at an impasse. This was a job for Enterprise's captain.
"I'll move your chair, Trip."
"Better put it close." Trip didn't look away from her. There was something grim and pained in his voice. "She's - " He winced; it didn't seem to have any effect on T'Pol's Vulcan death grip.
Jon hustled to slide Trip's usual chair so that it almost touched T'Pol's. Trip caught it with his leg, and moved it right up against hers. He was still watching her, and she still had hold of his arm like she was never going to let go.
Trip murmured again, acting like this was all perfectly normal. Jon couldn't hear what he said, but it must be working, because T'Pol relaxed a little.
Trip kept on with the soft words – was that Vulcan? T'Pol was shaking, the way she had after Azati Prime. Was she using trellium again? Is that why Trip was treating her like she might come apart if he talked too loud or moved too fast? He wasn't going to ask ; it would be cruel to remind T'Pol of her fallibility at a time like this. If trellium helped her through, maybe it was worth the cost, for now.
But, whether she was or not, Trip still needed his arm back, and in working order. "Everything okay, Commanders?"
"As okay as it gets, right now." Trip didn't shift his focus from the woman, and his voice was tight. "Vulcans don't deal with grief the way humans do." Jon waited, but Trip didn't explain. T'Pol was still silent, but she finally let go, her hand slipping shakily out from under Trip's, and there was another glimmer and a quick flash of color as she pulled it back into her wide sleeve. Jewelry? He'd never seen her wear any, beside her insignia. Must just be a trick of light on the embroidery on the wide cuffs of her robe.
Trip sat down without moving his chair, and Jon's First Officer sighed softly and leaned in against his Chief Engineer, her back half-turned into Trip's solid body. He wrapped the arm he'd broken around her, and T'Pol came the rest of the way into the embrace, nestling her head against Trip's chest, just beneath his chin. Jon could only see the top of her head, and one sculpted ear.
It reminded him of the shuttlepod journey back to Enterprise from Mars. Trip didn't even let Phlox treat that arm; he was stuck to the baby and her mother as though there was no pain that could get in the way of his newly discovered paternal duties.
When their daughter cried, T'Pol sang a lullaby in a clear and beautiful voice that filled the little cabin. Tripbrushed his lips over her hair.
Just the way he was doing now.
Something about the intimacy of it had bothered him then. They'd still thought the baby was fine, and they'd looked like a family. It had jolted Jon into the realization that he might lose them both. They couldn't raise a baby on a starship, after all. Neither of them looked willing to give up that little girl with the blue eyes and pointed ears - not without a hell of a fight. Now that they had her, they were going to keep her.
They'd named their daughter Elizabeth, after Trip's sister. Only after little Elizabeth died did Jon learn that her middle name was T'Les, in honor of T'Pol's mother.
Elizabeth T'Les Tucker had been created to separate species, but she had brought her human father and Vulcan mother together in shared grief. The baby bound them together, in life and death. Jon had been glad they had each other. Together, maybe they could make some sense of the existence – and tragic death of - a baby who had been forced on them, and then taken from them, all in the space of three days.
But that was five weeks ago. They weren't a family now; not anymore. Not without the baby.
So why was T'Pol clinging wordlessly to Trip's arm like she couldn't make herself let go of him, and why was he he holding her in his arms like she belonged there, stroking her back in a slow, steady rhythm, and murmuring soft calming words?
There was a soft, choked-back little sob, and T'Pol looked like she'd burrow straight into Trip's chest. The engineer didn't seem surprised at all. He just held her, whispered into her ear, and stroked her back. It was tender and sweet, and it seemed to be just what T'Pol needed right now. Maybe Trip, too - he was always at his best when there was someone to take care of.
Apparently, even if that someone was T'Pol.
Belatedly, Jon realized he was staring. Thankfully, they were apparently both oblivious to the fact, but if T'Pol knew he'd seen her like this, it might make things worse for her, and that was the last thing Jon wanted to do.
But he couldn't just sit here like there was nothing happening, either, so he got up as quietly as he could. Neither Trip nor T'Pol seemed to notice.
Andoria floated peacefully below them. Jon took five steps to the planetside window. He told himself he was admiring the blue and white marble, and not sneaking peeks at his two best friends in the blurred multiple reflections the candlelight cast on the plasteel.
T'Pol tipped her head back, her still-wet eyes glistening.
She was watching Trip.
Jon stopped lying to himself, and shifted carefully until he had a clearer view. Those dark eyes were lovely, and, even in the softened view, eloquent with unspoken emotion.
Trip's eyes were focused on hers, and they glowed with something Jon wasn't ready to even try to decipher. He nodded as if T'Pol had spoken, and the hint of a sad smile teased his dimple without actually breaking free.
Jon wondered if either of them had any idea at all what this looked like.
T'Pol raised her arm, slowly, while Trip watched her. Her sleeve fell back, and there was something bright and colorful on her hand as it splayed across Trip's face. Jon felt their mutual sigh shiver through him, but all he could focus on right now was T'Pol's hand….
Her left hand.
And on the fourth finger, adorned with a small emerald and gold ring that glimmered against a backdrop of stars like a secret revealed.