For As Long As Ever Lasts
Disclaimer: Star Trek: Enterprise is the property of CBS/Paramount. All original material herein is the property of its author.
A/N: Thank you for reading and commenting!
Chapter 10: Good Things Come To Those Who...
Koss stopped just inside the door of T'Pol's quarters. Unlike the last time they met, he did not approach her or make any attempt to touch her. But T'Pol had also felt much more in control of the situation during their previous meeting. This time she felt distressingly powerless and vulnerable.
She imagined Trip still standing with her, holding her hand. She could almost hear his voice...
Don't worry, t'hai'la. I'm right here. We'll get through this.
As the words echoed soothingly through her, she calmed. She felt more sure of herself as she addressed Koss. "Captain Archer asked me to express his gratitude. He wouldn't have succeeded without the transporter codes you supplied."
"The captain told me you were in danger," Koss replied. "I wouldn't have been a very good husband if I didn't help." He paused, his voice softening. "He also told me about your mother. I grieve with you, T'Pol."
T'Pol inclined her head, but said nothing, still very much on guard.
Koss continued. "Now that she is gone..."
T'Pol steeled herself for her life sentence of exile.
"...I'm releasing you from our marriage," he finished.
If he had thrown a glass of ice water in her face, she would not have been more startled. It took her a moment to find her voice. "Explain."
Koss hesitated, looking apologetic. "We married under false pretenses."
"I'm well aware of that," T'Pol snapped. "You blackmailed me—marriage in exchange for helping my mother. You had an agenda."
"No," Koss said quietly. "My parents had an agenda."
T'Pol hadn't expected this, either. "Continue."
"Insisting on the marriage was not my doing. You had made it quite clear that you did not want me." At this, Koss looked somewhat downcast. "However, my parents sought favor with Administrator V'Las. They learned that he wished to uncover the identities of suspected Syrrannites, and that your mother was one of those suspected. They knew that if we were family, I could observe her movements without suspicion."
Before T'Pol could respond, Koss turned away, to the viewport. He gazed out at the blackness, his face averted from her. "When my parents brought up our betrothal again, I thought it was for the sake of tradition. That was my reason for marrying you. It was only after you had returned to Enterprise that they told me your mother was a suspected Syrrannite, and that they expected me to...to spy on her."
"Did you?" T'Pol asked.
"No." Koss's voice was hard as flint. "I found the idea repugnant."
T'Pol arched a suspicious eyebrow. "She told me you spoke a great deal about her mistrust of the High Command, and her dissatisfaction with Vulcan society."
Koss faced her again. "I spoke with her of those matters because I, too, am disenchanted," he responded earnestly. "And because I believe you have been undervalued and ill-used by the High Command. I told my parents that I learned nothing from your mother. When she gave me the IDIC necklace, I didn't tell them. I only told you."
T'Pol studied him warily. He seemed sincere. "It appears your parents' efforts to curry V'Las's favor were for naught," she observed.
Koss's tone turned ironic. "I admit to an odd sense of satisfaction, knowing that. With V'Las no longer in power, my parents are now distancing themselves—jettisoning all unsavory elements that may cause them dishonor. Including you, T'Pol." He looked deeply ashamed. "They consider you a disgrace to the family."
T'Pol was disgusted. "Your parents' fickle loyalties do them no honor."
Koss's expression mirrored her own. "My father did not attain his current position of power and influence by standing steadfast with losers and lost causes."
Suddenly T'Pol was furious with Koss—not only because of the pain he had inflicted on her, but because of the suffering he had let his parents inflict on him. "You allow them to dictate to you at their whim—whom to marry, whom to abandon..."
"You know as well as I that obeying the wishes of one's parents is expected," Koss said evenly. But as he looked steadily at her, his expression softened into something very much like yearning. "Nevertheless, I could defy them and fight to keep you as my wife..."
T'Pol felt a fresh burst of panic at his statement. Koss had affection for her! All the questions about her that he had showered on T'Les had nothing to do with his clandestine assignment to extract information from her. T'Pol was powerless to stop him if he chose to remain her husband.
Her face must have betrayed her, for Koss shook his head, looking wistful now. "Be at peace, T'Pol. I have no wish for you to be discontent. I know you only married me to help your mother. She's gone now; there is no reason to continue the marriage for her sake. And I have always known that you were not one to follow a conventional path." He glanced around her quarters. "You were meant for the stars. Your future...and no doubt, your future bondmate...are here."
T'Pol found her anger for Koss fading, while her fury toward his parents grew exponentially. "Koss, your parents used you, as they used me! It is unconscionable."
"Their goal was logical to them," he said, his voice impassive. "When one is set on a path, one can convince oneself of the logic of it."
Clearly, Koss had long ago resigned himself to his parents' less than honorable methods. That still did not make the situation acceptable. "You deserve better," T'Pol told him. "A mate who is worthy, who values you."
Koss seemed touched by her words. "You are not unworthy, T'Pol." He drew himself up, and she saw a self-assured calm come over him that was not affectation. "But now that I have released you, I shall go in search of another such worthy woman."
"I hope you find her soon," T'Pol said, with genuine sincerity.
He arched an eyebrow knowingly. "I do not need to hope the same for you. You have already found such a mate in Commander Tucker, have you not?"
"Koss," she said gravely, "I have not dishonored you or our marriage."
"I know," he replied, with the same sincerity she had shown him. She saw a tiny spark of amusement in his eyes. "I would expect no less of a worthy woman." He raised his hand formally in the ta'al. "Peace and long life, T'Pol."
T'Pol studied him for a moment, quietly astounded by the enormity of the changes that had come to pass during the last few minutes. Did Koss realize the profound gift he had just given her? From the glimpse she had seen in his sad eyes of the price his heart was paying to release her, she believed he did. She found that she no longer regarded him with animosity, but with understanding and respect. She touched her fingers to his cheek in a soft ozh'esta. "Peace and long life, Koss."
Hesitantly, he returned her gesture of affection. As his fingers caressed her cheek, she saw a final, fleeting glimpse of that wistful longing in his eyes, before he composed his face into a placid Vulcan mask. "Good-bye, T'Pol."
-- -- --
Trip heard T'Pol's cabin door slide open and shut. He made himself count to ten, giving Koss enough time to be gone. Then he got to his feet, rounded the corner—and stopped dead.
Koss was standing outside the closed cabin door, looking directly at him. "Commander Tucker," he acknowledged.
Trip remained frozen in place. "Koss." He didn't know what to expect. Was Koss taking T'Pol away? Was he going to break Trip in half for daring to love her?
But Koss's expression held no malice or jealousy. In fact, there was a sadness in his eyes that Trip could feel, even from several meters away.
"Take care of her," Koss said simply.
Trip stared at him, dumbfounded. The guy's request was genuine, Trip could tell. Something extraordinary had happened in there with T'Pol, and now Koss was leaving. He was leaving her.
Trip answered him. "I will. To my last breath."
Koss nodded, then headed away without another word.
Trip felt a spark of hope reigniting inside him as he bolted to T'Pol's door and keyed it open. He found her standing in the middle of her quarters, wearing the same look of stunned shock that Trip figured he still had plastered on his face. "T'Pol?"
"His parents were using him as a pawn," she said, sounding a little dazed. "They wanted information from my mother about the Syrrannites. He didn't know he was being positioned as a spy until after the marriage. He believed he was following tradition..."
He took her hands. "Darlin', what did he do?"
"He released me from our marriage," T'Pol said.
Trip felt his spark of hope exploding into elation. "You mean...?"
She nodded. With a joyful whoop, Trip grabbed her by the waist and picked her up, twirling her around in a circle as his joy burst out of him in a cascade of delighted laughter. She took his shoulders as he flew her around, gazing down at him with the most exquisite of smiles.
Finally he set her down, cupping her face in his hands, losing himself in those beautiful, deep brown eyes. "My God, T'Pol. My God... Am I dreaming? Am I breathing? Have I died? Am I in heaven? Is this really happening?"
"It is real, t'hai'la," she said softly. "We are together."
Then, for the first time in forever, they were kissing each other. Slowly at first, reacquainting themselves with the taste and feel of one another after so long apart. Tongues teased and danced, as hands caressed familiar haunts long neglected. Soon they were touching and stroking everywhere, needing each other more than air.
Trip had her robe off and most of her tunic's buttons undone, and he was nibbling his way down her delectable throat when he figured he'd better ask, just to make sure. "This 'release' thing that Koss did...it's the same as a divorce, right?"
T'Pol had stripped him to the waist. "To a certain degree," she hummed in reply.
To a certain...? Not good, not good at all. Trip stopped nibbling. "That's not the same as 'yes'."
T'Pol sighed. "There is a bureaucratic process to be endured before the Vulcan Social Ministry declares the marriage legally dissolved."
He groaned. "You're...still...married?" He was going to need a long cold shower. He was gonna need to sit in a tub of ice, for corn sakes. He sank down onto one of her meditation pillows. "How long is this 'process' going to take?"
She sat on a pillow beside him. Her tunic was hanging together by a single, tenacious button, and her hair was beautifully mussed around her flushed face. The view was indescribably wonderful. "Vulcan bureaucracy is quite thorough," she stated clinically. "The dissolution of a marriage is never taken lightly. Koss and his family will be interviewed to determine the reason that he released me. I doubt his parents will admit to blackmail, or a desire to curry favor with a disgraced former member of the High Command. They will likely claim that I proved an unacceptable wife."
"What?!" Trip declared indignantly.
"For example: I did not reside with my husband following the wedding ceremony, as tradition dictates..."
"His family agreed to that!"
"I have been censured numerous times by the High Command," T'Pol pointed out.
"And I have a shameful reputation for emotional outbursts, as well as an affinity for humans."
"But that's gonna come into favor as soon as Soval gets his joint-mission project off the ground," Trip insisted.
T'Pol raised one lovely eyebrow. "Would you prefer they made no objections and I remained married to Koss?"
Trip looked properly abashed. "I'll shut up and follow your lead, t'hai'la."
"Excellent," she said with satisfaction. "We will hope that Koss and his parents do as much damage as possible to my reputation, then."
"Right," he nodded obediently.
They sat side by side in silence. Trip awkwardly folded his arms, to make sure he wouldn't run the risk of going hog-wild again. He tried to remember how he had controlled himself for three...endless...months. "Okay, then. You're still married. Nothing's changed." He tried not to sound too hangdoggy.
T'Pol laced her fingers delicately over one silk-clad knee. "I did not say that nothing has changed."
Trip looked more closely at her. Her eyes were dancing merrily. She looked positively puckish. "Talk to me, T'Pol."
"Legally, I am married until the Vulcan Social Ministry declares the union dissolved." T'Pol's voice had a pleasing lilt now. "But from a moral perspective..."
She was doing this on purpose, just to drive him nuts. She had to be. Damn it all, it was working, too. "Yesssss...?" he prompted.
"The declaration of release frees both spouses from the vows they took when they married," T'Pol explained. "In our culture, Koss's declaration now makes it possible for both of us to act, without dishonor, on any affection we might have...for another." She regarded Trip intently now. Expectantly.
Oh my GOD.
"Act without dishonor? Did I hear you right?"
She nodded. And smiled coyly.
"Good enough for me." He practically tackled her. Then they really made up for lost time.
Later, they lay in a deliciously sated tangle in her bunk, lazily nuzzling each other.
"Is this the Ever After that the captain wished for us?" T'Pol asked, as she played idly with the hair on Trip's chest.
"I guess so," he smiled. He kissed her fingers. "Because we're together, for as long as Ever lasts."
"Then I am content," she sighed happily.
"I don't know how this is gonna play out," Trip mused. "Earth and Vulcan...Starfleet and the Vulcan High Whatever-the-hell that T'Pau's putting together...somehow I don't think anybody else is ready to see the two of us married."
She raised up and eyed him curiously. "Was that a proposal?"
He grinned. "If it was, it stunk." He sat up and took her hand in his. He hadn't planned this, so he just spoke from the heart. "T'Pol, darlin', t'hai'la...you're my best friend, and my heart's delight. You're the other half of my soul. Will you marry me?"
T'Pol was speechless with emotion for a moment, as she gazed into his adoring blue eyes. Finally she responded, "Charles Tucker, my t'hai'la...you are my best friend, and you stirred my heart to love. You are my soul's compass. Yes, I will marry you."
They sealed their promise with a kiss.
"I suggest we follow Lorian and Karyn's lead and keep our engagement a secret, until we learn more concerning the professional ramifications of marrying," T'Pol said, ever practical. "We may need to enlist the support of Captain Archer and Ambassador Soval." She studied Trip's face. "And you will need to amend your expression as soon as possible."
Trip was beaming so broadly, he thought he would burst. "Give me a few hours. Maybe I can work it down to an idiotic grin." He kissed her soundly again. "Hell, I want to marry you right now."
She shook her head primly. "Even if we could, we would not. We will need time. Several weeks, at least."
Trip nodded. "Yeah, yeah. Koss's family needs time to trash your reputation to the Vulcan Social Ministry and get you unmarried."
"Actually, you mentioned that it would take you several weeks to learn the wedding vows in Vulcan."
Trip was charmed. "You want that? A traditional Vulcan wedding, like Lorian said we had? I mean, the other—y'know, his folks?"
She was nodding. "That would be most agreeable."
"You can teach me the vows, then."
He could swear he saw a faint flush of green color her cheeks. "I should prefer to hear you speak them for the first time during the ceremony," she said, a little shyly.
Looking at her, Trip imagined that the phrase "blushing bride" could not be more apt. "Okay," he said softly. "I'll get Hoshi to help me out." Abruptly his face lit up, and he made a dive for her terminal. "We gotta call the kids and tell them!" He grabbed his slacks and climbed into them as he started tapping keys. "Is there a Vulcan version of Best Man and Maid of Honor? If not, maybe we could cheat a little. It would be amazing if Lorian and Karyn could be a part of the ceremony..."
T'Pol smiled to herself as she watched Trip put through the call to Earth. She had been so devastated just a day ago, but she could not remember feeling happier than she did at this moment. Was she dishonoring her mother's memory? T'Pol searched the residual memories she still felt from the mind-meld. T'Les had understood...she had wanted her daughter and Trip to be together. T'Pol imagined that T'Les would be quite content if she were here.
"Hold on. They're not at the Starfleet compound anymore." Trip was frowning at the viewscreen, tapping more keys. T'Pol pulled on her robe and joined him at the desk. They watched together as the new screen came up. A slow smile spread on Trip's face. "Columbia. I'll be damned."
"Commander Lorian, Chief Engineer," T'Pol read off the crew roster. "Lieutenant Karyn Archer, Chief Helm Officer." She felt a burst of pride for them both, although she knew it would be unseemly to admit feeling such an emotion. Well, perhaps not to Trip.
"When did all this happen? They never even told us!" Trip punched in his security codes.
"What are you doing?" T'Pol asked.
"Checking the engineering logs."
Trip scanned through the logs with a practiced eye. "Look here," he pointed triumphantly. "Lorian's only been on the ship three days, and warp efficiency has improved twelve per cent. That's our boy!"
T'Pol reached past him and entered her own security codes, then called up the bridge logs. "Karyn's performance in efficiency drills has surpassed that of Columbia's previous helm officers by forty-seven per cent," she observed.
"Captain Hernandez has her priorities straight, that's for sure," Trip chortled. "She'll probably dance at their wedding, and policy be hanged."
T'Pol brought up Lorian and Karyn's official Starfleet profiles. She and Trip gazed at them with parental satisfaction. "They look quite becoming in their uniforms," T'Pol remarked.
"Look at the stats...all the skills they were rated on. Pretty impressive when it's all listed in one place." Trip slipped his arm around T'Pol. "Those are our kids, T'Pol. Our family. It's gonna be something watching them light up Starfleet." He chuckled. "And each other."
"Captain Archer will be most pleased," T'Pol nodded.
"Captain Archer will be most pissed," Trip snorted. "You know how he hates missing out on stuff."
"In the case of Karyn and Lorian, he will need to become accustomed to it," T'Pol replied. "I doubt their careers will advance slowly enough for him to witness every milestone."
They went back to their contemplation of the viewscreen.
"Someone will have to inform the captain of this when he returns," T'Pol mused, without looking up from the screen.
"I'm not telling him," Trip answered as he scrolled down. "You tell him."
"I'm not telling him."
Trip grinned. "We'll get Malcolm to do it. He's been feeling left out..."