A/N: Thanks for all the feedback. I've really enjoyed reading your reviews.
Part IX: Letting Go
The tall, wizened priest— brought from the temple of Mt. Seleya itself, at the request of Toral— stood ready in the central room. He wore muted mauve robes which, for one accustomed to study and contemplation, were a remarkable show of color to mark the occasion of the wedding ceremony.
Beyond him and the acolyte at his side, T'Pol waited, resplendent in her purple wedding robes. Her expression, however, was as grave as it had been on the day Sochya had died: overwhelming grief, barely held at bay. T'Les beheld that face, and wondered whether her daughter was lost to her forever.
Tucker entered the room behind T'Les. She fully expected that as soon as the commander saw T'Pol, her daughter's sorrow would be reflected in his entire demeanor. T'Les observed Tucker as his eyes fell on T'Pol. Remarkably, though, he allowed none of his distress to show; instead, he gave her daughter a gentle smile of respect, admiration, and unmistakably, love.
Watching Tucker's dignified manner, T'Les felt herself more at peace. She would trust that the commander, by declining to tell T'Pol of his feelings or attempting to halt the wedding, had made the choice that was in her daughter's best interest. T'Les must believe that.
"You look amazing," Tucker said softly to T'Pol.
Her voice quavered as she struggled to maintain her emotional control. "I'm grateful that you're here," she said.
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," he replied.
From the sand garden, the ceremonial gong sounded again. According to custom, the male rang the gong a second time to signal his readiness for the wedding rites to commence. T'Pol tensed at the sound, not making any move to leave. Her eyes remained locked on Tucker's, almost pleading. T'Les was reminded of a dazzlingly beautiful lara bird entangled in a d'mallu plant, unable to free itself.
"It's time," T'Les said. Her words seemed to break the spellbound moment between the two; Tucker looked away, moving back from T'Pol. T'Les stepped between them as she led the marriage party outside.
The late afternoon air was warm, but T'Les felt an uncomfortable coldness permeating the sand garden that had nothing to do with the temperature. She saw it in the faces of Toral and Keshta, Koss's parents, and in Koss's aloof gaze as T'Pol took her place across from him. T'Les even felt it behind her, as Tucker made his way to the spot farthest from the bride and groom, against the wall of the house.
"What ye are about to witness comes down from the time of the beginning without change..."
T'Les attempted to focus on the sonorous voice of the priest as he recited the ancient vows, but her clear view of Koss drew her attention away. He appeared the model of Vulcan stoicism as he knelt across from T'Pol; T'Les did not detect even a trace of the affection she had seen in his eyes during his earlier visit with her daughter. Curious. She knew Koss was now achieving the objective that had become something of a quest for him these past three years. Perhaps his more formal demeanor today was for the benefit of his parents, or in keeping with the solemnity of the ceremony. Even so, T'Les wondered what had transpired during the interim.
She could not see T'Pol's face, but her daughter's rigid posture confirmed what T'Les already knew: this would be a marriage in name only. T'Pol resisted it in body as well as mind and heart. Her ozh'esta was but an artificial, empty pose: when Koss's two fingers touched hers, T'Les saw T'Pol subtly stiffen, as though his mere touch was almost too much for her to bear.
Perhaps this was the reason for Koss's expressionless mien: he knew his long-standing affection for T'Pol not only went unreturned, but had been summarily rejected.
The sand garden was filled with people, but T'Les felt only emptiness.
"...This is the Vulcan heart," the priest intoned. "This is the Vulcan soul. This is our way..."
T'Les's only consolation was T'Pol's stubborn insistence on retaining her career as showpiece for the humans. She would have Enterprise, and on Enterprise, there would be Tucker. He could not have her for his own, but T'Les hoped that he would watch over T'Pol, in his own fashion. T'Les doubted he would be able to do anything else.
She had heard talk at the Academy regarding the fickle nature of the human heart; they could fall out of love as quickly as they fell into it, and as affection faded between former ashal-veh-lar, respect typically dissolved as well. T'Les thought it highly improbable, though, that Tucker would cease to love T'Pol, any more than he would dishonor her. The connection T'Les had sensed between them was far too strong.
At the ceremony's conclusion, T'Pol and Koss rose and turned to the priest. "It is done," he said solemnly. "These two are now one."
T'Les could now see her daughter's face for the first time since T'Pol and Tucker's exchange before the ceremony. T'Pol appeared somber and resigned, her dark eyes distant. Even as Koss's parents approached the couple, looking satisfied, T'Pol did not react.
As T'Les joined them, she saw T'Pol's sad eyes move past her and the priest to the house, where Commander Tucker still stood. Hesitantly, she met his eyes. As T'Les watched, Tucker lightly touched his fingers to his right cheek, then gave T'Pol the same reassuring smile he had shown her before the ceremony.
His simple gesture seemed to infuse T'Pol with strength. Her eyes warmed, giving her expression a serene calm. She drew herself up, then smoothly joined the conversation between Koss and his parents. T'Les could sense her daughter at last accepting her circumstances and stepping gracefully into her role as Koss's wife.
T'Les glanced back to see Commander Tucker slipping away, unnoticed, into the house.
A few minutes later, T'Les had an opportunity to steal away herself. As she entered the house, she saw Tucker coming into the central room from the east wing. He had changed out of the ceremonial robes, and was carrying his packed travel bag, moving quickly and quietly toward the kitchen. He glanced in the direction of the sand garden, saw the wedding party still occupied outside—
—And as he reached the kitchen he froze, seeing T'Les watching him from the doorway to the garden. At once, a look of guilt came over him, as if he expected a reprimand from her.
It was T'Les's assessment, however, that the commander had done more than enough this day to earn a dignified exit. She joined him, and with a subtle but deferential nod, opened the door through which she had shown him out yesterday.
Tucker looked quite nonplussed. T'Les found herself oddly pleased by his reaction. So, Commander, I surprise you for a change.
There was little time for words. Nevertheless, Tucker paused before her. "Thank you for your hospitality." As soon as he had spoken, he smiled apologetically. "I know. Showing gratitude is a human thing. I can't help it, I guess. Sorry."
"There is no offense where none is taken," T'Les replied, quoting Surak. She hesitated only a moment before adding, "You need not be concerned about modifying your behavior. You are a most worthy individual." She inclined her head toward him, conveying, she hoped, all the gratitude and respect she felt for him.
Tucker seemed to understand. His face softened into a sad trace of a smile. He nodded back, then slipped out the door.
T'Les returned her attention to the sand garden. Koss and his parents were conversing with the priest, while T'Pol stood silently by, her demeanor poised, her face perfectly composed.
Tucker was gone, but he had left his strength behind, supporting T'Pol. T'Les would always hold him in the highest regard for what he had sacrificed... what he had lost.
She grieved for him. She grieved for them both.
A/N: Thank you again for all the marvelous comments.
For those of you wondering (even hoping) that I would take this story in an AU direction at the end, you might want to take a look at an ongoing series of mine called Reconnecting. You can find it archived at the Trip/T'Polers Fanfiction Archive; the link is at my website. The first story begins in the middle of the wedding, and then...