Court and Spark
Disclaimers in Chapter 1.
A/N: I know that many people asked for more chapters, not to mention a wedding, but this is where I had always planned to end the story, so I hope no one will be too upset. Considering that the last few installments had to be blasted out of me with dynamite, even if I had planned more, I don't think it would be a good idea to keep going!
The rain had stopped sometime during the night. Sun and rain-washed freshness lent a hopeful note to her final day at the Tucker house. T'Pol wondered if some kind of poetic symbolism might be in order, but the cacophony of her farewell ceremony soon drove all such academic thoughts from her mind.
The entire family had risen early to see the young Vulcan off, and Mrs. Tucker made a large breakfast in honor of the departing guest. (Mr. and Mrs. Tucker seemed determined to pretend that the events of the previous evening had never occurred, and T'Pol was happy to go along with the charade. Her mate was inclined to make snorting noises through his nose and give his parents pointed glances, but after a mental nudge from T'Pol, he refrained.)
During the course of the meal and the overly complicated leave-taking that followed, each member of her new family felt the need to make a personal statement of farewell, all of which involved the presentation of a gift. This necessitated the opening and closing her duffel numerous times, in order to safely stow a handmade pair of earmuffs from Frankie, a brief family history compiled by David, a bronzed putter and set of colored golf balls from Daniel and Carlos, a picture album from Mrs. Tucker, and a diamond-cut platinum tool set from Mr. Tucker. Gerald and Jean Monaghan presented her with a beautiful afghan of Aran wool, but it wouldn't fit in her bag.
Finally, with all the goodbyes said and the entire, good-natured, noisy family milling about on the front porch, Trip managed to maneuver both T'Pol, himself, her duffel, and the afghan down the steps. After some negotiating, T'Pol shouldered the duffel and Trip the afghan. They then linked arms formally and started down the gravel pathway to the landing site. As T'Pol looked over her shoulder to wave one last time, Bernie scurried down the porch steps and across the lawn.
The look on her mate's face suggested that he was worried the child intended to accompany them. T'Pol had to admit some concern on that score herself. Bernice, however, simply skidded up to them, stuck a large manila folder in the side pocket of T'Pol's duffel, and scrambled back up the porch steps to wave goodbye with the rest of the family. The young Vulcan raised a questioning eyebrow at her mate, but he shrugged. Whatever Bernie's gift, it was a mystery to him as well. The child's actions suggested that she did not wish it to be revealed before a large audience, so T'Pol left the folder in its location.
As they walked along the path to the landing pad, T'Pol noticed that their progress slowed with each passing step. Granted, they had not begun the journey with the greatest of speed: Trip's injuries were still serious enough to make simple locomotion a chancy endeavor. However, their current reduced pace seemed less the product of a slow healing process than of a reluctance to part ways, even temporarily. But T'Pol had duties and responsibilities, including a visit to her own family on Vulcan. Her mate still had a great deal of recuperation to accomplish. Their separation would only be temporary; they would be together on Enterprise soon. Still, acknowledging that fact did not seem to be making her departure any easier.
T'Pol felt a need to confront the dejected silence. "Your family is very—" The comment died an abrupt death, as she could not think of an adjective capable of describing the Tucker clan.
Her mate seemed to understand, though. "Yeah," he replied with a grin. "They are."
As they rounded the corner that took them out of sight of the house, Trip slipped his elbow from hers, reaching for her hand, instead. They continued their plodding pace, slowing even further as her long-neglected shuttle came into view. T'Pol twined her fingers through her mate's. "Will you have any difficulty returning to the house without assistance?" she asked.
Trip glanced at her sidelong and smiled. "I don't think so." His smile dissolved into wistful contemplation. "Not physically, anyway," he added, raising his eyes to hers. T'Pol returned his sentiment, gently squeezing his hand. Trip went on in a more practical vein, "Anyway, even if I did have any problems, the whole posse up at the house would be on the lookout." He glanced over his shoulder, glowering at the now-invisible relations. "Dad's probably got the telescope trained on us right now."
T'Pol tilted her head. "One would hope he had learned his lesson."
"Meh," Trip grunted noncommittally, obviously still perturbed at the revelations of the night before.
This conversation had brought them right up to the door of the shuttle. They stood for a while, quietly holding hands and looking at the transport, as if it would somehow solve their problem. Finally, Trip sighed and released her hand to open the door. He gently set the afghan in the passenger seat of the craft and turned to her with his hands out. She passed him her duffel without a word, and he set it atop the afghan. He kept his back to her, taking an inordinate amount of time to secure both bag and blanket with a restraining strap meant for a sentient passenger. Even without accessing their bond, T'Pol knew he was prolonging the simple task in order to curb his emotions.
When Trip had her cargo strapped in to his satisfaction, he turned to face her again. They stood looking at each other in silence for several moments. Then T'Pol reached out her hand. Trip grasped it as if it were a lifeline, but he made no move to come closer. She sensed that he did not want to burden her with his emotional response to their separation. So they stood and stared at each other. Finally, her mate could stand the charged silence no longer.
"It's only for four weeks," he said with a forced smile. "Phlox says I'll be ready to return to duty in just four weeks." He wiggled his eyebrows at her, trying to lighten the mood. "Duty. And other things. In just four weeks!"
T'Pol, appreciating his attempts to make their departure less painful, played along. "According to my calculations, you will be fit for...duty...in only three weeks and four days." Her mate's smile grew bigger, until it was a bona fide leer. "In fact, I have contacted Dr. Phlox about your rehabilitation." Trip's smile faded. Had he heard an entendre where there had been none?
"Phlox has drawn up an extensive plan to restore you to your previous level of health. Diet. Exercise. Physical therapy." T'Pol drew a PADD from her pocket and handed it to her mate, who stared down at it, crest so very fallen. Instantly regretting her joke, the young Vulcan leaned closer and whispered huskily in his ear, "Three weeks and four days. It is imperative that you be in optimum condition at the end of that time." She pulled away slightly and held his eyes with her own. "It would be...disappointing...if you were not able to perform your...duties...to the best of your abilities."
Trip stared at her, mouth agape, eyes beginning to glaze. T'Pol woke him out of his reverie by pressing her lips against his. He responded with such alacrity and fervor that any fears T'Pol might have had about his continued recuperation were swept away. She participated in the pleasurable farewell just long enough to make sure her mate was sufficiently motivated. Then she gently eased him out the shuttle door—but not before confirming that the PADD with its vital itinerary was in his hands. He stared at her dazedly from the landing pad.
"Three weeks and four days," she reminded him. "Optimum condition." When he continued to stare at her like a phasered Rigellian, she prodded him to action. "Trip. Your first session is today." Her mate blinked and dropped his eyes to the PADD clutched in his fist. Then he looked up at her again, his dazed look transforming into a delighted grin.
"Three weeks, four days," he confirmed. "Optimum condition!" Clutching the PADD to his chest with one hand, as if it were a precious treasure, he gave her a thumbs up with the other. T'Pol nodded in satisfaction and pulled the door down until it latched.
Her mate waited off to the side of the landing pad as she powered up. Once the shuttle began its lift, he waved. T'Pol raised her own hand in farewell, then turned her attention to the controls. As the shuttle banked, the manila folder Bernie had tucked in her duffel pocket slipped to the floor of the shuttle. Its contents came to a rest near the Vulcan's feet. T'Pol deftly snagged it with one hand.
It was a beautiful pastel sketch of the Tucker's house, as seen from the woods. T'Pol could just make out the porch swing, from the artist's vantage point; it held two figures, one blond and one dark-haired. The Vulcan leaned in closer. Two tiny points—ears—were just barely visible though the dark hair. T'Pol set the sketch gently on top of her duffel. Bernie—obviously a precociously gifted artist—had titled the piece "Home."
Impulsively, T'Pol banked the shuttle, turning so that she would be able to see the house from the air. She felt her eyes fill slightly as she spotted it though the trees. Swallowing, she reined in her emotions, and banked again. The movement brought the shuttle low enough to spot a figure shuffling away from the landing pad. T'Pol angled down a bit lower to confirm that it was, in fact, her mate. Trip seemed to be having no mobility problems as he moved rapidly toward the house. Even from her altitude, T'Pol could see that his eyes were riveted to something held in his hands: the PADD with the recipe for optimum conditioning.
T'Pol banked the shuttle once more, sending it back into its original flight path. She craned her neck to catch one final glimpse of both house and human before they were swallowed up by the trees. Her mate. Her family. Her home. Emotions were roiling through both her mind and body in an alarming fashion, and yet she was not at all bothered by them. The privacy of the shuttle cabin ensured that any emotional display would not be inappropriate.