Chapter 13: Journeys End in Lovers Meeting
Disclaimer: I didn't create these characters, but I hope they come to life in this story.
More than any other annoyance about growing old, T'Pol's inability to maintain an adequate body temperature causes her aggravation. Knowing that her efforts will be useless, she nevertheless presses the manual lever on the wall panel. A flashing red light warns that the room is already at the maximum temperature allowed.
Suppressing a sigh, she moves slowly to the open door of her office and steps into the corridor. Twice she's asked maintenance to override the safety in her office, only to be told both times that her request is in the queue. If she sees a technician in the hall, however, she might be able to snag some help—
Her age and yes, her reputation, have made her formidable to most of these young people working at the medical center. She's not above throwing her weight around to make her office more comfortable.
That is, if she can find someone to help. Not surprisingly, New Vulcan is chronically short-handed in almost every area. That's why she finds herself here now, helping the healers catalogue the effects of the ka'lim for future reference—if there ever is another need for the emerging medical protocols.
A distant noise—footsteps, or a door closing. Her hearing is not as acute as it once was. Another annoyance about growing old. She shivers and has to resist the illogical urge to press the temperature control again. Trip Tucker would have known how to bypass it, would have had the room agreeably warm in a few minutes.
All these years later, the first engineer on the Enterprise still inhabits her thoughts daily, walking not only in her memories, but standing beside her in her imaginings, in her theoretical conversations. She's beyond grieving his loss, but not past missing his presence.
The noise in the hall grows louder and she looks up hopefully. Not a technician but Commander Spock, Sarek's son. She has seen him twice this week, passing him with a curt nod, curious about why he continues to visit the healers. Some lingering effect of the ka'lim? Perhaps because of his human DNA? If she really wanted to know, his medical records would be easy enough to access. She could certainly justify making a special entry in her cataloguing work.
On the other hand, how useful would that information be for anyone else, considering the Commander is the only Vulcan-human hybrid?
At least, so far. Vulcan-alien relations are more likely in the foreseeable future. Even if the Commander weren't half-human himself, T'Pol can imagine that he might have chosen the bondmate he did—that young lieutenant, the one she spoke to in Spock's quarters.
She watches him walking toward her, his brow knit in concentration, his gaze on the floor. So phenotypically Vulcan—with his father's build and features.
But with far more expressive eyes. Even in the brief conversations she's had with him in the past, T'Pol has been struck at how much the Commander can say with his eyes—or how much he unwittingly gives away.
Today, for instance, he's troubled by something. When he looks up and sees her standing in the doorway, she notes a flicker of alarm—for exposing his distress so openly?—and then his face goes blank.
Nodding in her direction, he starts to pass by but she calls out to him.
"Commander," she says, "if you have a moment to look at something?"
If he is irritated at being stopped, he doesn't show it. Instead, he listens politely as she explains her discomfort with the room temperature, tilts his head once and swiftly removes the wall panel over the controls. In less than two minutes she hears the heat snick on and feels the air in the room begin to stir.
A few years ago she could have done the repairs herself—after much effort, and after a steep learning curve to figure out the new technology. Now she's content to let younger hands help.
"Thank you," she says as he replaces the panel cover. "I hope I have not inconvenienced you."
"Not at all, Lady T'Pol," he says. He turns to her and tucks his hands behind his back, waiting, T'Pol realizes, for further instructions. Not out of duty or respect, the way most young Vulcans would have waited, but with something else she rarely sees these days—a solicitude, a kindness, that often characterizes her interactions with humans.
Not for the first time, she wishes she were as skilled as the Commander at demonstrating such thoughtfulness. A pity, too. It would have made her life on the Enterprise more harmonious. Would have, she admits in her darker musings, helped her make better choices for herself.
"If you are at leisure right now," she says, her impulsive tone at odds with her deliberate demeanor, "you could join me for a cup of tea."
She sees a shadow cross his features briefly.
"As you wish," he says, and she motions to where her traveling robe is draped over the back of her chair. With two long strides Spock crosses the room and retrieves it for her.
"You know," she says, leading the way out of her office, "I have had many conversations lately with your father. In fact, we often take afternoon tea together."
"Indeed," Spock says, inclining his head toward her.
"We had planned to meet this afternoon but he had some other matter to attend to. Here," she says, pointing to the door, which Spock pushes open for her. The sunny afternoon is a relief after the chill of the building. For a moment, T'Pol stops and lifts her face to the sky.
"This way," she says, heading down the sidewalk toward the shopping district near the medical complex. "There's a little tea shop I like to frequent. It's owned by the grandson of an old friend, a Denobulan I once served with."
The tea shop isn't far but T'Pol briefly flirts with the idea of hailing a hovercar. If she were alone, she might have.
Instead, she moves slowly and carefully down the crowded pathway.
"That building there," she says, indicating a construction site on the same side of the road, "is going to be an agricultural research facility. In addition to analyzing the existing flora on this planet, the researchers hope to modify traditional Vulcan crops to make them compatible with this soil and climate."
A knot of people part and walk around them. T'Pol feels Spock move closer to her elbow, his hand outstretched, prepared to steady her.
"Of course," T'Pol says drily, "not many specimens of native Vulcan plants are still available. It would be more logical to learn to eat the plants that are already here. But that would require being more...flexible...than Vulcans find comfortable."
She glances up at him to gauge his reaction to her veiled criticism of Vulcan stubbornness. His face is a mask but his eyes give him away. He is amused.
Briefly. Then the same troubled look that she noted earlier darkens his expression and a weight seems to settle on his shoulders.
"Perhaps you think I am being overly critical of Vulcans," T'Pol says, pausing to let a personal wheeled vehicle pass her. "After all, as the human expression has it, I am not one to talk. My own intractability has cost me dearly, especially where dealing with humans is concerned."
Shading her eyes with her right hand, T'Pol blinks in the sunlight as she peers up at Spock's face.
"I see you are too polite to ask me to explain," she says. "I wouldn't have, at any rate. Not because I don't care to, but because we do not have enough time."
Motioning to the opposite sidewalk, she says, "The tea house. Hold out your arm."
Spock crooks his elbow and T'Pol loops her arm through his. She intends it as a safeguard as she steps off the curb, but the traffic is particularly swift and heavy and she keeps her hold as they move across the street.
"You are fortunate," she says, keeping her gaze forward, "to be both Vulcan and human. As much as I value my Vulcan traditions, I have also been restricted by them in a way that now, in my old age, I regret. Your humanity frees you from being bound in the same way, Spock. I envy you that."
Spock's face remains impassive but T'Pol feels the muscles of his arm tighten under his sleeve. She's not surprised. Sarek has alluded to the difficulties with bullying Spock faced in school. Spock's reasons for choosing Starfleet over the VSA are no mystery. The odds are high that he doesn't consider his humanity an asset.
As they reach the other side of the street, Spock raises his arm slightly and T'Pol takes a tentative step up onto the curb. Pausing to make sure that her footing is steady, she catches her breath. Beside her, Spock says, "Lady T'Pol, I am not as...tolerant...as you imagine."
"Oh, yes," T'Pol says, leaning heavily on his arm, "Your father tells me that you share the reservations as most of the High Council about Romulan reunification."
If she hadn't known what to watch for, T'Pol would have missed Spock's minute frown. She suspects he is more annoyed at being the topic of his father's conversations than at having his political views challenged.
"I confess that I am troubled by my response to the idea of reunification," Spock says, not making eye contact as they begin walking toward the door of the tea shop. "Although I grew up with the words of Surak as my guide, in this instance I question whether diversity can be achieved. Romulans and Vulcans are too different—"
"Too similar, you mean," T'Pol says, reaching for the handle of the tea house door. "Each committed to the culture of their ancestors, both convinced they are right. Your skepticism is warranted. Very few Romulans or Vulcans seem to want this reunification."
A large, burly Denobulan sporting a short ponytail greets them inside the door. His bright blue eyes light up as he says, "Lady T'Pol! I wondered if I would see you today. Your usual place?"
"Naturally," T'Pol says, turning to Spock. "I prefer Terran chamomile tea, but we can order something different if you like."
It's an offer she doesn't expect him to take, and she isn't disappointed. He demurs softly and the Denobulan steps aside and waves his arm to the staircase in the rear of the room.
"You know," T'Pol says, picking her way carefully through the empty tables and chairs, "you don't have to be an ambassador for IDIC in all things. If you are skeptical about reunification, so be it. You may change your mind as more take up the cause. In the meantime, you will always be a symbol of diversity for Vulcans. Your mother; your choice of a career in Starfleet."
Reaching the foot of the stairs, she grasps the rail and says, "Not to mention your bondmate."
From the corner of her eye, she sees him flinch.
A tiny motion—so slight as to be almost unnoticeable—but it conjures up an image of another young Vulcan.
A hundred years ago the Enterprise—her Enterprise—had met their counterparts from an alternate timeline. The life that other T'Pol lived was vastly different from her own—and no more so than in having a son with Trip Tucker.
Either from her memory or her imagination, she sees Lorian standing on the bridge of the Enterprise, his sandy hair and light eyes, his mannerisms so reminiscent of Trip that she instinctively knew who his father was.
And felt little surprise to hear herself called mother.
Different from Spock in many ways, Lorian carried himself the same way, paradoxically open and guarded, as if he both welcomed her words and dreaded them.
How odd that of all the things she remembers or creates, it is that mannerism that she sees best—his light eyes narrowed, one shoulder tipped forward, as if he is bracing for something.
Long ago she stopped wondering where he was—if he was. Just as she has accepted her daughter Elizabeth's brief life as something to both cherish and mourn.
"I met her," T'Pol says to Spock, "when I came aboard the Enterprise. I would like to have had a longer conversation with her."
With a final step, she reaches the top of the stairs and waits for Spock to catch up with her. The door leading to the rooftop patio is open, the warm air wafting across the dark room. She heads to it slowly.
"Spock," T'Pol says, shifting so that she can see his face, "as illogical as it is to have regrets, nevertheless, I have them. Very few are for things I did. Most of the regrets of my life are for things I did not do, actions I did not take."
Letting her hand rest briefly on the doorframe before stepping out onto the patio, T'Pol says, "Words I should have said but didn't, relationships I let languish. Important people I let slip away. Those are the things that make growing old so hard to bear.
"We all do things we regret later—even when we think our logic is sound. But failing to act—making a decision by default? Those are the moments that cause the most pain."
Enough speeches, she thinks. She's becoming a tiresome old woman.
Looking up, she sees Sarek sitting at a table near the wall, drinking tea with Spock's bondmate.
"Ah, your father is here already," T'Pol says, picking up her pace. Beside her, she senses Spock's agitation in the scuff of his boot, the intake of his breath.
"Lady T'Pol," Lieutenant Uhura says, standing. Her eyes flick quickly at Spock and then away.
"Please sit," T'Pol says, but the lieutenant instead steps away from the table and holds out her chair for T'Pol.
"Excuse me," the young woman says, "but I was just leaving. I need to check back with the ship. Good afternoon, everyone."
From his seated position, Sarek sends T'Pol a glance. The tattoo of the lieutenant's footfalls is like a drumbeat as she strides across the patio.
Spock stands, his hands at his side, his head angled away. With a sudden motion, T'Pol taps his arm.
"Go after her," she says.
Spock's eyebrows rise in surprise—though as much from her touch as from her words, T'Pol suspects. He looks up at his father, and some message is sent and returned. Without another word, Spock swivels on his heel and walks toward the patio door, passing the waiter laden with a fresh pot of tea.
"Well," T'Pol says, sitting and reaching for the cup the waiter offers her, "we've done what we could. It's up to them now."
X X X X X X
She's surprisingly quick. By the time Spock makes his way back down the stairs and through the tea house, Nyota is already out of sight, hidden by the press of people on the sidewalk.
Holding his arms tightly to his side as he stands in the center of the crowd, he looks first in one direction and then another. A judder of mild panic shakes him. She's nowhere in sight.
Wait! he calls through their bond, and at once he feels her pausing in her headlong rush away from him.
An image of the transport station at the end of the street looms up in his mind and he starts left and lowers one shoulder into the crowd.
Wait, he says again, quietly, a request rather than a demand this time. Almost at once he sees her standing beside the nondescript one-story building, her arms crossed, a frown creasing her brow.
"I will accompany you," he says aloud when he's within earshot.
Saying nothing, Nyota turns and heads inside. At the far end of the room is a small transporter platform where she scans her travel card and steps up on a pad. Hurrying to a pad beside her, Spock motions to the attendant. In less time than he can blink, they are exiting from the transporter on the Enterprise, Nyota still charging ahead of him, her shoulders thrown back, her posture unnaturally stiff.
As she enters the corridor, Nyota pauses as two engineers pushing an anti-gravity sled pass by. Spock steps up behind her and lets his hand drift forward to brush her fingertips. Her fury leaps across the connection like a live wire.
Pulling away, he lets her move forward before following her, keeping a few paces back. He can tell from the cant of her head that she is listening to his footsteps.
When they reach her quarters, Nyota hits the entry panel with more force than necessary, not a good sign. Spock hesitates for a moment and then steps into the darkened room after her. The bedside lamp snaps on as the door shuts behind him.
How to begin?
He opens his mouth to speak but she beats him to it.
"What happens now?"
Her voice is angry, even accusatory, and Spock feels disoriented, as if he has walked into the middle of a conversation.
"I can't live like this," she says, her eyes blazing. "I won't live like this. You can't just cut me off and walk away with no explanation."
Now it is his turn to feel a flash of anger. "With no explanation" is inaccurate. Indeed, since returning from the Romulan outpost, he's spoken with her twice, both times stressing his concern for her safety. The first time she had listened closely, a look of worry on her face. The second time, a day later, she had radiated anger when he spoke—had argued that he was being illogical by withdrawing from her.
"I understand that losing control during the ka'lim was frightening," she said, and he had forced back a wave of impatience. The ka'lim had not just been frightening; it had been terrifying. His mind fogged, like being trapped in the body of a drunk cadet. Watching his hands crashing down on some hapless Romulan's neck—had that happened? Even now he isn't sure.
"You cannot understand," he said. "No one can."
He held up his hand to stop her from objecting. "I thought, before, that I could protect you during...a normal pon farr. Now I am not sure. I cannot guarantee what I might do."
"Has Vulcan control. I—do not."
She had opened her mouth to argue further and he had a sudden fear that if she did, he would lose his resolve. The healers at the clinic had warned him of this—had urged him to spend his time in private meditation instead, to give serious consideration to whether this bonding should continue.
"I tried to explain," he says now as she circles the room and perches on the edge of the bunk. "I attempted to show you—"
"No, you didn't," she says quickly. "You haven't shown me anything since you returned."
He starts to object but stops. It's true that he's kept her cordoned off from what he saw, what he experienced on the outpost. Not, he realizes now, merely out of concern for her, but out of shame.
He wants no one to see him as he was—mindless, lurching, fevered, like a wounded animal.
"If I show you," he says, his voice hollow, strained, "will you try to understand?"
He lowers his shields and searches for her—feels her heat and anger and her fear, too.
Making his way to the bunk, he sits gingerly beside her and reaches for her hand.
He's flooded with so much emotion—hers and his own—that he almost drops her fingers.
Don't, she says. Steeling himself, he calls to mind the claustrophobia of the sloop, the cloying heat, the dizziness that in retrospect were early signs of the ka'lim. The unsteadiness, the widening loss of control—he shows her all this, wincing, distraught.
And underneath it all his driving need for her, his obsession that narrowed his thinking and shuttered his vision.
If I had been near you— he thinks, letting his words trail off.
The explosions, dashing down the maze of the outpost hallways, the difficulty of focusing on the broken transporter—he lifts these images up for her, closing his eyes. At the edge of his consciousness he feels her lingering and he drops a curtain over his memories.
"Look at me," she says, cupping his face in her hands. Obediently he opens his eyes. Her face is inches from his, her lashes and cheeks wet.
"It doesn't matter," she says.
"You cannot understand," he begins, and through her fingers he feels her annoyance.
"Not if you don't tell me, I can't. But that's not what I signed up for. Not what we signed up for."
"Nyota," he says, tugging her hands from his face, "I bonded with you before I knew what I was asking. The ka'lim showed me what true loss of control looks like—"
He falls silent, looking down at the floor. In his hands, her cool fingers tingle with the peculiar electricity that defines her touch.
What are we going to do, she says silently, and his heart gives a lurch.
The question, the one that consumes him.
Tugging her hands free of his, she raises them again and cups his face, pulling his head down, leaning forward until they are so close that he is forced to close his eyes.
"After all we've been through," she says, her words breathy, halting, "is this really the best we can do?"
"If I could guarantee your safety—"
"Spock! Listen to you. No one's future is guaranteed—no one!"
Her voice is indignant but her mood is darker, brooding, a vision of Vulcan collapsing on itself forcing its way up in her consciousness.
And suddenly he is back there on the surface, boulders tumbling past, the ground shivering and rocking, his hands slick with sweat, the smell of blood and fear all around him, the Elders skittering to the edge of the precipice, the scrape of his father's boots, the sun obscured by the red haze of whirling dust.
With an almost violent gesture he jerks back from the memory and opens his eyes.
Most of the regrets of my life are for things I did not do, actions I did not take.
T'Pol's words echo in his mind.
Important people I let slip away. Those are the things that make growing old so hard to bear.
Nyota's face so close that he can see an errant tendril of hair stir with each breath she takes; the fragrance of her soap, comforting, familiar; her eyes seeking out his own, peering at him so intently that he has to look away.
"I do not want to lose you," he says.
"No guarantees," she says, tipping her face up and catching his lips with her own. Instantly his face flushes and he gives an involuntary shudder; she laughs—quietly, gently, and says, "Your control has always been an illusion, Commander."
Leaning forward she kisses him again, this time with more urgency, and the heat travels from his face to the rest of his body. When he nips her earlobe, she arches her back and presses herself against him. What a fool to think he could have walked away from this—the twin pleasures of evoking her arousal and then feeling it in his mind.
"Undress," she says, slipping her fingers under the hem of his jacket. Her tone brooks no argument and for a moment he is too astonished to move.
"Now," she says, breathing the word into his ear before leaning back and slipping her own jumper over her head, an action he's seen her do a hundred times but never so erotically, so charged with demand. He responds at once.
Pressing the palm of her hand against his chest, she pushes him back onto the bunk. With a flick of her wrist she frees her ponytail and straddles him, tickling his shoulders with the trailing ends of her hair, running her hands up his arms and encircling his wrists with her fingers, pinning them over his head.
But his protest is a sham and they both know it.
Their lovemaking is urgent and vigorous and swift, fueled by the week of anger and sorrow and fear. When they lie back at last, tangled in the duvet, he strokes her cheek idly and feels the first real peace since returning from the Romulan outpost.
"We need to talk," Nyota says abruptly, alarming him. Through the bond he feels her presence, warm and humming, seemingly at odds with the ominous tone of her words. Raising one eyebrow, he tilts his head and makes sure she knows that he recognizes that he is being teased.
"Saril and T'Sela will need a wedding gift," she says. "I was thinking of giving them the poetry book. What do you think?"
His reaction is immediate, visceral, powerful. And negative. Amazing, to be so attached to an object. He's both embarrassed that she senses his disapproval and annoyed with himself for conferring sentimental value on a book.
As a teenager he had bought the book in a market stall in Shi'Kahr, more out of curiosity than from any literary appreciation. Initially the poems had been baffling to him, their frank eroticism vaguely disturbing, like overhearing part of a conversation but not fully understanding it.
When he began to explore his own sexuality, the poems were less ciphers and more symbols of his new experiences.
Reading the book became a form of meditation, a way to think about desire and fulfillment, a well-worn tome that he left behind at his parents' house when he headed to Starfleet, certain with a young man's confidence that it had taught him everything he needed to know.
He imagines that his mother raised an eyebrow of her own when he asked her to find the book on his shelf in his bedroom and send it to him in San Francisco—a ridiculous expense, surely, for something he could have downloaded onto a PADD, or perhaps even replaced at one of the numerous used booksellers near the Academy.
And then when the book arrived—and Nyota believed, wrongly, that it was a gift for her—it became something else again—a rune, a hieroglyph of his private, inexpressible feelings.
Suddenly he's aware that she's peering up at him and he blinks and says, "If that is your wish."
"You wouldn't mind?"
He would mind, of course, but telling her feels like admitting to a flaw in his character, like announcing some moral failing. His first tendency is to deny it.
No guarantees, she had said, and it is true. Nothing is guaranteed. Nor more than he can keep her safe, he can't control how she might react to his selfish attachment to the book, can't, in the end, control much of anything where Nyota is concerned. The thought is unsettling and oddly arousing.
"Do what pleases you," he says, and she laughs, both out loud and across their connection.
"I'll think about it," she teases, and he knows at once that he hasn't been as transparent as he imagined. "Anyway, you already have the entire thing memorized."
She's nestled on her side, one arm tucked under her head. Looking down at her, Spock feels his breathing catch, his heart hammering in his chest, and he wraps one arm around her and pulls her closer.
I ravish you in my dreams.
She's right that he knows every poem by heart. This line, however, lives not only on the page.
That's lovely, she thinks.
She tucks her head under his chin and snuggles closer. He drapes the duvet over them, making a small, warm nest. In a few minutes Nyota's breathing slows and he feels her slide into the oblivion of sleep.
She often falls asleep this way, lulled by his body heat. In an hour or two she'll wake hot and sweaty and push him away.
He doesn't mind. Until then he's content to lie here looking around at the room in the dim lamplight, as motionless as the book of poetry on the bedside table, neither of them going anywhere. Ever.
A/N: The end! The chapter title is from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
Like many of my stories, not everything in this one is tied up neatly, but I hope that isn't too troubling. That whole issue of Romulan-Vulcan reunification, for instance, isn't resolved, not by a long shot. And I hope the "Easter eggs" I left for Star Trek: Enterprise fans weren't too distracting.
For all the readers who stuck with this story despite the high angst level, thanks so much! And a double thanks to everyone who leaves a review. Too shy to leave a review? Don't be! Your support truly keeps me writing.
Coming attractions: I'm already working on a new story—one that I hope will be a bit more lighthearted. It's a series of tales Spock tells about growing up as the son of the Vulcan ambassador. He decides to set the record straight about his mother's contributions to Sarek's career. It's called "My Mother, the Ambassador." I hope to post the first chapter soon.